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Oscar’s bullets built for maximum damage

Oscar Pistorius reacts during a pathologist's testimony at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Oscar Pistorius reacts during a pathologist's testimony at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Published Mar 11, 2014


Pretoria - The bullets Oscar Pistorius pumped into Reeva Steenkamp’s body were built to inflict maximum tissue damage, mushrooming and curling like a flower petal on reaching a target.

The “very sharp jagged edges” of Black Talon bullets, now known as Winchester Rangers, caused such extensive injuries that surgeons operating on victims of such gunshots had to exercise extra caution.

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This evidence by pathologist Professor Gert Saayman in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday pointed to Oscar Pistorius’s “obsession” with firearms.

Just a month before gunning down his model girlfriend on February 14 last year, the Paralympian had applied for six firearm licences – among them a Winchester shotgun, produced by the same manufacturers of Black Talon bullets.

These included a Maverick shotgun, a Winchester shotgun, a Mossberg shotgun, a Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver, a .38 Special revolver and a Vector .223 rifle.

His father, Henke, caused a stir last year when he told a British newspaper that he and other relatives owned a total of 55 guns because they could not rely on the police to protect them.

And last week, the double-amputee athlete’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor told the court Pistorius didn’t go anywhere without his gun.

In his affidavit presented during his bail application last year, Pistorius told the court he slept with his gun under his bed despite living in a security complex as he had previously been a victim of violence and burglaries.

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It was this fear that had prompted him, upon hearing a noise while taking in fans from the balcony of his bedroom, to grab the gun and fire shots through a locked bathroom door.

That 9mm Parabellum pistol, according to police records, was the only firearm registered in his name and on Monday the type of bullets used were revealed for the first time in court.

“It (the bullet) is a projectile designed to cause maximum tissue damage. As it strikes a tissue, it folds out like petals of a flower. They were designed to have very sharp, jagged edges… cause maximum tissue damage. As it hits tissue it mushrooms. If a surgeon was to operate on such a patient he’d have to exercise extra caution,” said Saayman.

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He started by describing the black sleeveless vest Steenkamp wore when she was murdered, saying it had “extensive bloodstains, scattered fragments of tissue and bones to the front of the vest” and a “deformed part of a bullet entangled in the fabric”.

As he said this, Pistorius curled up in the dock, holding a tissue with hands placed over his head, and started making retching sounds. His sister Aimee let out a muffled cry and wiped away tears as a red-faced big brother Carl placed his arm around him.

Saayman continued, giving graphic details of injuries inflicted on Steenkamp’s body:

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* There was a penetrating wound with an irregular shape… edges, dimensions of 37x27mm.

* There was a projectile that approached the skull, struck the skin, penetrated the scalp and exited in the second wound with the rest of projectiles and bones exiting. There was indistinct bleeding on the inner surface of skull… an entrance defect on the skull. It was not a normal perpendicular entrance where the whole fragment went into the skull.

* There was soft tissue swelling, bruising of the right upper eyelid. No direct trauma but swollen owing to skull trauma caused by a gunshot to the head.

As he said this, Pistorius made retching sounds again, causing the court to adjourn briefly.

It seems Pistorius knew what was coming. Even before Saayman took the stand, he had the plastic bucket at his side. At some stage, while moving to the side of the dock to speak to his legal team, Pistorius kicked the then empty bucket, but quickly manoeuvred it upright again with his leg.

After the lunch break it seemed as if he had gathered his composure, but soon after Saayman continued his testimony, Pistorius’s heaving continued – more intensely.

Saayman continued:

* There were small, irregular superficial wounds (2mm) caused possibly by small projectiles but more likely wooden splinters (from when Pistorius smashed the door with a cricket bat).

* A gaping skin wound and exposure of underlying skin tissues, lacerated and torn, above the elbow. Another smaller, irregularly formed wound adjacent to this at the 3 o’clock position.

* The right interior of the chest or chest wall showed groupings of abrasions, superficial wounds just below the right breast. These were not penetrating but superficial wounds, likely to have been caused by splinters.

* An oval penetrating gunshot wound was on the right hip.

* A grouping of superficial small non-penetrating wounds varying from 2mm in size. These were splinters which embedded themselves in the forearm.

* Scattered lesions of skin on the upper arm and elbow.

* Lesions found on the back midline, caused by a blunt object.


Pistorius sobbed when Saayman was asked by the prosecution how long Steenkamp would have lived after the shot to her head. Saayman said it would be safe to say she would have been incapacitated immediately after the bullet had hit her. “She would have been incapable of voluntary actions (after being hit in the head), but it did not mean that she was dead. Death can take some minutes,” said Saayman.

He added that his findings during the autopsy regarding the brain suggested that after the head shot, she had only breathed a few times before she had died.

Day six of his murder trial proved to have taken its toll on Pistorius, who walked past his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who was seated in the front row of the public gallery, reserved for family.

Last week, Taylor tearfully testified how Pistorius twice cheated on her and how he allegedly fired shots through the roof of a car in which they were travelling.

The pretty blonde occasionally glanced at Pistorius in the dock, but he totally ignored her.

At the conclusion of Monday’s proceedings, he sat in the dock, with his brother and sister clinging on to him. When he eventually lifted his face, it was red and tear-streaked.

The trial continues on Tuesday with Saayman on the stand.

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