Pretoria - On his stumps, Oscar Pistorius is vulnerable in dangerous situations and his ability to defend himself is impaired – unless he has a gun in his hand.
This is according to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Gerald Versfeld, who has known Pistorius since he was a baby. He also amputated both of his lower legs.
Versfeld took the stand in Pistorius’s North Gauteng High Court murder trial to testify for the defence regarding his vulnerability when on his stumps. He said Pistorius battled to walk on his stumps and often lost his balance and fell.
Pistorius was on his stumps when he fired four shots into the toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year, killing his blonde model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius claimed during his evidence that it was pitch dark, save for a small LED light from his hi-fi system in his room and that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.
Versfeld testified that Pistorius was especially vulnerable on his stumps in the dark and that he had to use his hands to balance himself. “He has to rely on sight to balance… He will fall if he does not have a visual reference,” Versfeld said.
Asked during cross-examination by prosecutor Gerrie Nel whether it was possible for Pistorius to run away instead of firing the shots, Versfeld said it would have been quite a process for Pistorius to turn around on his stumps and that he even battled to walk.
“You say he battles to walk. But he did not fall once while on his stumps during the incident. He walked with a gun in his hand from the room to the bathroom and he never fell. He fired four shots while on his stumps,” said Nel.
He added that after the shooting, Pistorius walked back to the bedroom on his stumps where he moved items around. He even went on to the balcony, still on his stumps, without falling, Nel said. “The most amazing thing is he walked to the bathroom, fired the shots, ran back and all this was done, on his version, in the pitch dark.”
Nel asked Versfeld whether the risk of Pistorius falling would have been less if there was some light in the bathroom that morning, as claimed by the State. Versfeld agreed.
Nel said walking on stumps in the dark would have been even more difficult if Pistorius held a gun in his hands and had to negotiate items on the bedroom floor, such as a duvet. Versfeld earlier told the court that Pistorius outlined his difficulties in walking on his stumps to him and he (Versfeld) followed this up with X-rays, which he handed to court.
According to Pistorius he experiences extreme pain, especially in his left leg, if he does not put his weight down properly. His knee clicks out of joint, causing severe pain.
Versfeld demonstrated to the court how Pistorius’s prostheses fitted into his stumps and what happened if he did not move his leg at the right angle, due to the soft tissue under his stumps.
He also testified that Pistorius would have lost his balance if he was on his stumps, as claimed by the prosecution, while hitting the bathroom door with a cricket bat. Pistorius said he was on his prostheses at the time.
A sound engineer, Ivan Lin, who conducted highly technical sound tests handed in a report regarding his findings. He tested sound over a distance of 80m and 177m and said it wasn’t always possible to differentiate, over a distance, between the voice of a male and of a female or to determine the emotion in a voice.
He concluded that at a distance of 80m the voices would be more audible and less so over a distance of 177m. This evidence relates to the testimony of several neighbours who claimed they heard Steenkamp shouting in the early hours.