Ballistics and Screams Threaten Oscar Pistorius Defense

PHOTO: Oscar Pistorius, speaks with family and friends at right as press look on, March 25, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa.
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Oscar Pistorius and his lawyers have several crucial elements of the prosecution's case to overcome when they begin their defense Friday, particularly the ballistics testimony on the sequence of shots and neighbors' testimony on hearing a woman scream.

Pistorius will be the star witness -- and possibly the first witness -- in his defense. His testimony could last days and Pistorius will be a target of prosecutor Gerrie Nel who will try to catch the Blade Runner in a contradiction or an flash of anger.

Pistorius has been emotional while watching the testimony, sticking his fingers in his ears during descriptions of how he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013, and covering his ears with his hands as her injuries were detailed. Twice he vomited in court when confronted with photos of his slain lover.

PHOTO:
Scenes From the Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial

Pistorius, who claims he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder, could be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison if convicted.

The case could come down to Pistorius' testimony, legal expert Emma Sadleir told "Good Morning America."

"We are only interested in whether in his own mind he thought he was acting unlawfully in that moment," Saddleir said. "He is the only person who can tell us this."

Pistorius' fate will be decided by a judge acting alone, not a jury.

In convincing the judge that he is innocent, Pistorius will have to also overcome several key points made by the prosecution.

Attorney Anton Smith cited four elements of the prosecution's case that stand out: the ballistics, Pistorius' knowledge of South African gun laws, the pathologist's report and five neighbors who all testified about hearing a woman screaming before the gunshots.

"According to me, the most important witness for the state was ballistic expert Captain Chris Mangena who testified about the succession of shots and where those shots hit," Smith told ABC News. "What is important about this, is that the 'double-tap' theory of the defense was shot down."

Pistorius' legal team have argued that when he fired four bullets through the bathroom door, what people heard was a "double tap," two rounds fired in quick succession.

Using lasers to track the trajectory of the bullets, Mangena told the court that the first shot hit Steenkamp in the hip, knocking her onto a magazine rack. One bullet missed Steenkamp, while one struck her in the right arm above the elbow and the other to the right side of her head.

Mangena's testimony appeared to question Pistorius' double tap claim that because "both shots would have hit her around the waist area, where the first shot was," Smith said.

Smith said Mangena's evidence was supported by Gert Saayman, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Steenkamp's body. Both experts were of the opinion that the first wound Steenkamp sustained was in the hip, followed by the two other wounds.

The sequence of the shots dovetails with testimony from neighbors who insisted they heard a woman screaming before hearing thuds sounding like gunshots.

"If we can assume he shot the first shot, there was a pause and scream, he should have realized that it was Reeva, or considered that it may have been Reeva," Smith said.

Smith said the evidence from Sean Rens, manager of the International Firearm Training Academy, is also extremely important to the state's case. Rens told the court that Pistorius had ordered several firearms from him and took a competency test in order to be declared fit to possess those guns.

"In South Africa, you first have to pass a competency test. In this test, certain scenarios are given to you when you shoot or not. If your life is not in immediate danger, you cannot shoot. Oscar shot through a closed door, without ascertaining if there was danger or who was behind the door," Smith said.

"Even if he can by some miracle get past the first shot, he should have stopped shooting after his first shot when he heard the scream. And why did he fire two or three more shots into a closed door? That is not the actions of a reasonable man," Smith said.

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A "double tap" is when two rounds are fired off in quick succession. The defence suggested to Captain Mangena that Pistorius fired two sets of rapid shots - a theory he first raised in his bail application affidavit last year. Mangena told the court the location of the wounds prove this theory as impossible, because if two shots were fired in quick succession, there would have been two wounds in the hip or waist area.

As Oscar Pistorius' legal team consult with witnesses not previously available to them - because they were on the State's witness list - legal experts say the Olympic athlete does have a case to answer when he goes back to the High Court in Pretoria on Friday.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel ended the State's case yesterday after calling only 21 of the 107 people earmarked to testify - indicating that he is confident he's brought enough evidence before the court to secure a conviction.

Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in a pre-dawn shooting at his home on Valentine's Day last year. he also faces three other firearms related charges. The minimum prescribed sentence for murder in South Africa is life behind bars - which in effect translates to 25 years imprisonment.

Although his lawyers have confirmed that Pistorius will testify in his own defence, it remains unclear whether this will happen when the case resumes on Friday, with one defence advocate - who is not involved in the case - saying it would be a "tactical error" for Pistorius to start his evidence before the weekend as it would give Nel more time to prepare his cross examination.

Attorney Anton Smith says of the witnesses called to testify, four elements stand out as a basis for the State's case: the ballistics, Pistorius' knowledge of South African gun laws, the pathologist's report and five neighbours who all testified about hearing a woman screaming before the gunshots.

"According to me, the most important witness for the State was ballistic expert Captain Chris Mangena who testified about the succession of shots and where those shots hit. What is important about this, is that the "double-tap" theory of the defence was shot down. He demonstrated what a double-tap is, and if Pistorius did do a double tap, both shots would have hit her around the waist area, where the first shot was."

Smith says Mangena's evidence was supported by the findings of Professor Gert Saayman, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Steenkamp's body. Both experts were of the opinion that the first wound Steenkamp sustained was in the hip, followed by two other wounds - one in the right arm above the elbow, the other to the right side of her head - although neither could determine the order of the last two wounds.

The ballistics expert and pathologist also agreed on the type of bullets Pistorius used, the so-called Black Talon ammunition, with Saayman testifying that "They were specifically designed by the manufacturer to have very sharp jagged edges. This projectile was designed to cause maximum damage." Mangena said, “It creates six talons and these talons are sharp. It cuts through the organs of a human being. If it hits a hard object like a bone it breaks into pieces.”

According to Smith, the evidence from Sean Rens, manager of the International Firearm Training Academy, is also extremely important to the State's case. Rens told the court that Pistorius had ordered several firearms from him and took a competency test in order to be declared fit to poses those guns.

Smith says "In South Africa, you first have to pass a competency test. In this test, certain scenarios is given to you when you shoot or not. If your life is not in immediate danger, you cannot shoot. Oscar shot through a closed door, without ascertaining of there was danger or who was behind the door. Furthermore, from what is said above, even if he can by some miracle get past the 1st shot, he should have stopped shooting after his first shot when he heard the scream. And why did he fire 2 or 3 more shots into a closed door? That is not the actions of a reasonable man. Also, it was put by his defence that he was scared and afraid of crime, but one of the last witnesses testified that he has not reported any crimes, which is a negative for Oscar."

Finally, the testimony from five neighbors, all describing hearing a woman scream before thuds sounding like gunshots, forms a part of the prosecution's narrative. "If we can assume he shot the first shot, there was pause and scream, he should have realized that it was Reeva, or considered that it may have been Reeva."

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