Reeva was in ‘defensive position’

By SHAIN GERMANER Time of article published Mar 19, 2014

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Pretoria - A ballistics expert has provided gruesome details on Reeva Steenkamp's final moments that suggest she had been standing in front of the toilet cubicle door when she was shot by Oscar Pistorius.

Captain Chris Mangena on Tuesday described the four bullets fired towards the model through the door, and how three had hit her while one ricocheted.

Mangena also told in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that he was also able to determine that Pistorius had fired from a slight downward angle, just five or six degrees.

On Wednesday morning, however, Mangena told the court one of the four bullets had hit Steenkamp on the hip when she was standing behind the door.

He said this would have caused her to fall down as she faced the door. His opinion was that if she had fallen all the way to the floor, she would have been too low to have been hit by the subsequent bullets. Mangena believed that she had landed on the magazine rack adjacent to the toilet, keeping her from hitting the floor entirely.

When Mangena was giving this testimony, Pistorius plugged his ears and leaned over in the dock.

Mangena said Steenkamp was in a seated position when the other bullet came through and ricocheted against the cubicle wall, breaking into fragments that bruised her back.

She was in a defensive position with both her hands on her head after this, and the next bullet went through her arm and shirt, bruising her chest.

After the next bullet passed through her hand and into her head, she dropped and tilted to the right hand side where her head hit the toilet seat.

On impact with her skull, the bullet fragmented, a part exiting from the back of her head.

Mangena also calculated that Pistorius could have fired from any distance further than 60cm from the door.

He had conducted tests on different doors to determine how the Black Talon bullets had penetrated them, also testing for “propellant powder”.

However, the bathroom wall was about three metres away from the door, meaning Pistorius could have been anywhere between 60cm and three metres when he fired.

Mangena said the Black Talon ammo was quite hard to come by, but he used it to conduct his tests.

He said they were designed for maximum wounding, but are less likely to harm other people because they usually stop at the target.

The expert said that if all bullets were fired from the same position, the cartridges would be close to each other, unlike the cartridges found at the scene.

But Mangena said the cartridges could have been kicked or moved, as well, and that his findings were inconclusive.

He then said his findings were about 7cm off, but that they indicated Pistorius was on his stumps when firing at the door.

He said it was improbable that Pistorius had been on his prosthetics and shot from the hip.

“It's possible but it would be an awkward position,” he said.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked if Pistorius had just cocked his firearm without pressure on the trigger there was a chance it could fire. But Mangena said it would not.

Mangena also told the court about the danger of firing upwards into the air, as Pistorius had done through a sunroof in September 2012.

Defence advocate Barry Roux then began his cross-examination by questioning the definition of a “double tap”. Mangena explained it was shooting twice in quick succession, tapping twice on the trigger.

Roux said that Pistorius's version was that he double tapped. Mangena said he disagreed, as this would have created two wounds on her hip, not giving Steenkamp the time to fall over as he believed she had after the first bullet hit her.

Mangena said that there had to be a break between the first and second shots.

According to Mangena, the secondary missiles - fragments of wood from the door - had hit Steenkamp on the right side of Steenkamp's arm.

Roux argued that the pattern of the hip wound could have meant Steenkamp was leaning forward, and Mangena said it was a possibility.

Roux also tried to question if the magazine rack could have caused some of the marks on Steenkamp's back, but Mangena strongly disagreed.

“I have seen a lot of crime scenes, I have done a lot of cases… and I disagree with that,” he said after Roux asked if he had conducted tests to determine Steenkamp's right arm position when she was first shot.

Roux was trying to argue that the defence's experts determined Steenkamp's arm was close to the door, meaning her right side was pointing towards the door, but Mangena insisted she was facing it.

Mangena said he had not measured the spread of the splinters, and it would be impossible to conduct this test now.

Pistorius's version was that he was up against the bathroom wall on his stumps when he fired, which Mangena said was possible.

Roux said his own experts had also found gunpowder on the light switch, further confirming this story.

In the bail application last year, evidence was presented that Pistorius had stood 1.5m from the door. Roux said this was “made up” to reinforce the State's case of pre-meditated murder.

But Mangena said he did not know where this estimate had come from.

Roux argued that the placing of the bullet cartridges was also consistent with Pistorius's story.

Roux then tried to argue that Steenkamp's hands were not on her head, citing a lack of secondary wounds on her hands from skull fragments.

But Mangena said that if her hands had been on the back of her head, this may have happened.

Roux then asked if Mangena had conducted any tests to determine if the sound of a cricket bat smashing the bathroom door could be comparable to the sound of gunshots.

The defence has argued in the past that the sounds heard by neighbours could have been Pistorius breaking into the bathroom.

Mangena said he was not asked to do tests on sounds of bat versus sound of gun.

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