Shots fired at close range
Pretoria - Just over two metres – (220cm) – that’s how far Oscar Pistorius was from the toilet door when he fired four shots, hitting Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
Police ballistics expert Captain Chris Mangena testified in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday that only one of the four bullets left ricochet marks in the toilet cubicle, while the other three bullets disappeared “somewhere between the wall and the door”.
According to a post-mortem report, three bullets directly hit Steenkamp that morning – one in her head, another in her groin area and a third in her arm. The fourth bullet nicked the third finger of her left hand.
Mangena was also able to determine that Pistorius had fired from a slight downward angle, just five or six degrees.
When he told the court he needed the post-mortem report to determine Steenkamp’s position inside the cramped toilet cubicle, her mother June looked distraught in the gallery.
Mangena, an expert with 19 years of experience in ballistics, said he received the toilet door – covered in a body bag – on March 3 last year, as he had been told to reconstruct the shooting incident.
He was asked to examine it for the trajectories of the shots. On March 8, he went to Pistorius’s home, where the door was placed back in the frame.
Armed with a tripod, a laser device and Pistorius’s measurements, Mangena traced the trajectory of the bullets that killed Steenkamp. He measured the bullet holes from the height of the floor and found that hole A measured 93.5cm, B measured 104.3cm, C measured 99.4cm and D measured 97.3cm.
One of the bullets had ricocheted from point E to F – wall to wall.
He noticed two marks on the tiles inside the toilet cubicle which indicated that the bullets had ricocheted on the wall. These measured 89cm and 87.5cm from the floor.
Using steel rods, he was able to determine the trajectory of the bullets which killed Steenkamp. To determine the angle of the shots he used laser beams.
He positioned the laser on a tripod which he positioned 220cm from the toilet door to try and determine how far away Pistorius had stood at the time.
Mangena said that in order to reconstruct the scene and to determine Steenkamp’s position at the time of the shooting, he also needed to examine more closely her injuries.
He obtained pictures of the post-mortem examination.
Flipping through pictures of Steenkamp’s body, he said: “Photo shows wounds on the head of the deceased… entry and exit wound.”
Mangena said he looked at Pistorius’s version of what happened that night and that he claimed he was on his stumps when he fired the shots. It was for this reason that he was taken to a doctor to measure his height on his stumps.
Pistorius’s height up to his shoulder, wearing his prosthesis, measured 156cm and 123cm on his stumps.
His arm, “outstretched as if firing a gun”, measured 66cm.
Mangena’s evidence on Wednesday is expected to be vital as to the position Pistorius stood while shooting, the distance he stood from the door and possibly which bullet had hit Steenkamp first.
This, in turn, will be vital for the State’s case in determining whether Steenkamp, as claimed by neighbours, had time to shout for help before she died.
If the first bullet had hit her in the head, it would refute the State’s version, and that of some of the neighbours, that they heard her screaming while being shot.
If the first shots had hit her in the groin and arm, this could strengthen the State’s case regarding the screams.