Oscar Pistorius trial: Police 'followed blood trail'

LIVE: Coverage of murder trial of Oscar Pistorius. May include graphic evidence

South African police followed a "trail of blood" up the stairs after arriving at Oscar Pistorius' home, a retired officer has told his murder trial.

While Col Schoombie van Rensburg was testifying, the court saw photographs of the athlete's blood-spattered home.

Graphic photos of Reeva Steenkamp's body were briefly shown, prompting Mr Pistorius to be sick.

He denies murder, saying he shot his girlfriend on 14 February 2013 after mistaking her for an intruder.

Col Van Rensburg, who was initially in charge of the crime scene, said he immediately gave orders for it to be secured.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux has said that evidence from the scene subsequently went missing.

Analysis

Until now, much of the focus of the trial has been on Oscar Pistorius but the grim pictures shown in court have brought Reeva Steenkamp into sharp focus.

The pictures of her blood splattered in Mr Pistorius' bathroom, a grey towel on the floor soaked in blood and bullet cartridges at the scene are all a graphic reminder of the model's last moments.

Sighs could be heard in the overflow courtroom as the pictures were shown while Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg gave his evidence.

The court was told earlier that images of her body would be removed from the police file and not shown in court, after Mr Pistorius vomited when images of his girlfriend's bloody head flashed up briefly on the projection screen.

Showing the deceased's body is not uncommon in trials and the court's decision may fuel the perception that the rich and famous get special treatment in South African courts.

When Col Van Rensburg arrived, he found Mr Pistorius in the kitchen, pacing up and down.

He asked the Paralympic athlete what had happened, but "he was very emotional. He didn't understand", Col Van Rensburg told the court in the capital, Pretoria.

The officer, who retired in December, described a "trail of blood" leading up the stairs and spots of blood on chairs in the living room.

The trail led into the bedroom and then the bathroom, he said.

Col Van Rensburg said he found the toilet door, through which Ms Steenkamp had been shot, locked.

He said the key was in the outside, whereas Mr Pistorius said he found the key on the inside, after breaking down the door.

The police officer said he found Mr Pistorius' gun, a 9mm pistol, with blood on it lying on a grey towel inside the bathroom, along with a white iphone.

There had also been a box with eight wrist watches on top of a cabinet in the bedroom, he said.

INTERACTIVE
  • ×

  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

    ×

    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

Before Col Van Rensburg began his testimony, photographs of Ms Steenkamp's bloodied head and face were shown in court, prompting Mr Pistorius to vomit.

The South African athlete, who has had both legs amputated, was sick several times on Monday while evidence from the post mortem examination was presented to court and has also cried on several occasions.

The court was later told that photos of her body would be removed from the police file and not displayed in court.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani, who was in court, says images of the deceased's body are often shown during trial and the decision could fuel a perception that South African courts give special treatment to the rich and famous.

Col Van Rensburg said when he entered Mr Pistorius' house, he found Ms Steenkamp's body lying in a pool of blood covered in white towels and black plastic bags, which a neighbour said had been used to stop the bleeding.

'Missing watches'
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during court proceedings at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, March 13, 2014. The Paralympic athlete has been taking careful notes throughout the trial
Relatives of Oscar Pistorius in court (13 March 2014) His relatives (pictured) have been following the trial closely, as have those of Reeva Steenkamp
The scene in court during Oscar Pistorius' murder trial (13 March 2014) The shooting scene has been re-enacted in court

The prosecution has been attempting to cast doubt on parts of Mr Pistorius' story, including his claim that he was wearing his prosthetic legs at the time of the shooting.

Earlier, Mr Roux asked a forensic science expert, police colonel Johan Vermeulen, why he had failed to notice marks on the bottom of the door.

The lawyer said that the marks had been caused by Mr Pistorius trying to kick down the door using his prosthetic legs.

However, Col Vermeulen told the court on Wednesday that the angle of marks on the door proved that Mr Pistorius was not wearing his prosthetic legs when he hit the door repeatedly with a cricket bat.

This contradicted testimony previously given by Mr Pistorius in which he said that he had put on his legs before attempting to break down the door.

Col Schoombie van Rensburg describes seeing Reeva Steenkamp's body

The defence lawyer showed the court a photograph of Mr Pistorius' legs, with white socks and blood stains up to the knee.

Correspondents say whether or not the athlete was on his prosthetic limbs when breaking down the door is important because it could match parts of his story that he shot Ms Steenkamp accidentally, or expose inconsistencies in it.

Mr Roux seems to be also trying to raise doubts about police honesty and competence, correspondents add.

He said a box of watches had gone missing from Mr Pistorius' home.

Mr Roux asked Col Vermeulen about any police inventory of items from the home.

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet door

The officer replied that he would not make an inventory of every item in a home where a crime has occurred.

The damaged toilet door, with four bullet holes, has been in court along with a replica of the toilet where Ms Steenkamp died.

The trial, which has lasted nine days, is expected to call on more than 100 witnesses. It had been set to last for three weeks but looks likely to be extended.

The state is seeking to convince the court that Mr Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp - a 29-year-old model, reality TV star and law graduate - had an argument before the athlete fired the shots that killed her.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

If found guilty, the 27-year-old, a national sporting hero dubbed the "blade runner", could face life imprisonment.

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