The trial of South African sports icon Oscar Pistorius resumed in the North Gauteng High Court today, in what is expected to be the final home stretch before his defense rests its case later this month. Two of Pistorius’s neighbors, Johan Stander and his daughter CariceViljoen, took the witness stand on Monday, both of whom allegedly had good personal relationships with the athlete, although this was a detail that Stander attempted to understate during his testimony. He claimed that he had never socialized with the athlete, and insisted that his interactions with Pistorius had been limited to the odd neighbourly conversation.
Nevertheless, Stander, who lives roughly 380 yards from Pistorius’s home within Pretoria’s affluent Silver Woods Estate, and who was a member of the management committee until January 2013, was the first person Pistorius contacted after he shot his 29-year-old girlfriend ReevaSteenkamp in February last year. It is the state’s conjecture that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp in a supposed lovers’ quarrel gone awry. Pistorius maintains that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. He could face over 25 years in prison if convicted.
Stander told the court that he had slept through the shooting, and was instead roused by a distressed call from Pistorius at around 3:18am.
“Please, please come to my house” Stander says Pistorius told him. “I shot Reeva… I thought she was an intruder.”
Stander’s daughter, CariceViljoen, had apparently missed the shooting as well, although in her testimony she claims to have heard the sound of a man shouting ‘help’ three times when she woke to the sound of her dogs barking. Viljoen and Stander, who were first on the scene, proceeded to drive to Pistorius’s home, entering the front door (which was unlocked and left slightly ajar) as the athlete was carrying Steenkamp down the stairs.
“We saw Mr. Pistorius coming down the stairs with Reeva in his arms. I could see she had a head wound,” Stander told the court. “When Mr. Pistorius saw us, there was relief on his face.”
Viljoen added that “there was blood everywhere” and that she had gone to find towels and plastics bags to help stem the bleeding (In the meantime, she says, Pistorius had placed his fingers in Steenkamp’s mouth to help open her airway.) She described Pistorius as ‘frantic’ and “in a state,” and worried that he would attempt to kill himself if left alone with his firearm. “He was begging me to put her in the car and take her to the hospital,” she said.
“We tried to calm Mr. Pistorius down … he was broken,” added Stander who called for an ambulance at approximately 03:27 am. “He was screaming, he was crying, he was praying. He was torn apart, broken, desperate.”
She described Pistorius as ‘frantic’ and “in a state,” and worried that he would attempt to kill himself if left alone with his firearm.
Johan Stipp, a neighbouring resident and radiologist, arrived on the scene a few minutes later to offer assistance, followed by a paramedic team and the arrival of former Boschkop police station commander Col.Schoombie Van Rensburg just before 4:00am.
According to Stander, Stipp told him that he had heard four gunshots, followed by screams, a brief moment of silence and then more shots—the same testimony Stipp had given on the stand as one of the first state witnesses several weeks earlier.
Kenny Oldwage, a senior member of Pistorius’s defense and often regarded as Barry Roux’s second-in-command, then pressed Stander for information pertaining to any other violent incidents that had occurred on the estate under his management. He knew of three, one in which intruders had broken into a resident’s home using a ladder (Pistorius had earlier expressed fear that potential intruders may gain access to his bedroom via the ladder he had left outside.)
Prosecutor GerrieNel returned immediately to the subject of security during his cross-examination of Stander, which is significant because it could help establish whether or not Pistorius’s paranoia over home intrusion was exaggerated, as the state claims.
Nel promptly interrogated Stander over specific details of the three incidents—when they had occurred, whether they had been reported—many of which Stander could not recall exactly, although he did mention that security upgrades had been made in the last few years and that beams had been installed around the estate’s perimeter. Nel again prodded Stander as to why he had not installed burglar bars in his own home and why his daughter had slept with the balcony door open if the estate was not entirely safe. He asked Stander if the estate was a safe place to live in February 2013. “Nowhere is 100 percent safe,” Stander replied.
Later in cross-examination, Stander admitted that he had been following snippets of the trial via newspaper and on television.
Monday’s proceedings resumed after a two-week adjournment at the end of April, which ended on a less than stellar note for the defense after a disastrous turn by their so-called expert witness, forensic geologist Roger Dixon.
Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, model and law graduate ReevaSteenkamp, whom he shot and killed on February 14, 2013. He has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to one charge of premeditated murder and three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act, two relating to discharging a firearm in public and another relating to the illegal possession of ammunition.
The trial resumes tomorrow at 3:30am ET