published Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Photos show 'trail of blood' in Oscar Pistorius' home

PRETORIA, South Africa — The photographs show blood on the stairs, blood spatter on walls and furniture, a cocked 9 mm pistol lying on a mat, a damaged metal panel and fallen wall tiles in the bathroom and wooden splinters from the toilet door through which Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend.

Like pieces of an unfinished puzzle, the images entered as evidence Thursday at the athlete's murder trial gave a fragmented picture of Reeva Steenkamp's violent end, illuminating the scene where she died but raising a host of questions about what exactly happened.

One of the first police officers to arrive at the scene early on Feb. 14, 2013 stood in the witness box, recreating what he saw as he moved through the house in a macabre, methodical narrative that gripped the court gallery and viewers watching on live television.

"We then followed the trail of blood up the stairs," G.S. van Rensburg, a former police colonel, recalled of his investigation of the scene with Hilton Botha, a police investigator.

As in a fictional drama, court adjournments heightened the suspense of his account. Proceedings ended for the day with the display of the first photograph of the toilet cubicle where Steenkamp was shot, leaving van Rensburg to resume testimony Friday.

Describing his arrival at Pistorius' home, Van Rensburg said he traced spots and bigger blood marks downstairs, where Steenkamp lay dead from multiple gunshot wounds, and followed them across the floor, up the staircase, through a small lounge area and then into Pistorius' bedroom. Ultimately, he reached the bathroom where the double-amputee Olympian shot his girlfriend in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

There, van Rensburg said he found Pistorius' gun, hammer back and the safety off. There were spent bullet casings, cellphones and a blood-soaked towel on the floor, and the cricket bat that Pistorius says he used to break down the toilet door to get to Steenkamp after realizing, he says, that he had accidentally shot her. In the toilet cubicle, there was a darker pool of blood and the wooden splinters where the locked door, through which Pistorius shot the model, had been bashed through.

  • photo
    Oscar Pistorius covers his head with his hands and a notebook as he listens to forensic evidence during his trial in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday March 13, 2014.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Pistorius, 27, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of murder, and also faces three firearms-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and says he shot the 29-year-old Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a dangerous intruder in the tiny toilet cubicle in a bathroom of his Pretoria villa. Prosecutors charge that he intentionally killed her.

Details in the photos were highlighted by the prosecution. One was a gun holster on the side of the bed where Pistorius says Steenkamp was sleeping that night. The size of the bedroom suggested Pistorius had to walk close to where he says he thought Steenkamp was still sleeping to get to the bathroom. In the bathroom, the gun rested on a small towel that was clean in contrast to the blood stains around it, head prosecutor Gerrie Nel noted.

Pistorius mostly kept his head down in court and appeared to avoid looking at the TV monitors where the images were shown. The screen next to Pistorius was switched off before the exhibit.

Van Rensburg confirmed the photos reflected how he found the scene when he got there just before 4 a.m., about 30 to 40 minutes after prosecutors say Pistorius shot Steenkamp. The former police officer said he had been on duty for about 24 hours by then, dealing with other cases.

The photos show blood stains splattered on a white wall close to a group of glittering trophies in the multiple Paralympic champion's home. Pistorius was born without fibula bones because of a congenital defect, and his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old. He ran on carbon-fiber blades and also competed at the London Olympics, but didn't win a medal.

Photos of the bathroom showed wall tiles on the floor and a metal panel that had been damaged, apparently after being hit by a hard object. Prosecutors allege Pistorius killed Steenkamp after an argument.

Also upstairs, there was an air gun and a baseball bat near the door to Pistorius' bedroom. Pictures of the bedroom showed a cabinet with multiple sets of slick sunglasses and a box of watches as well as blood stains on the carpets and across a mirror on the watch box.

Van Rensburg also described how, on arriving at Pistorius' house, he saw Steenkamp's body near the entrance downstairs covered in towels and plastic bags that the daughter of the estate manager said she had used, with assistance from Pistorius, to try and stop the bleeding. Administrator Johan Stander is the first person Pistorius says he called after the shooting.

Pistorius was pacing in the kitchen, van Rensburg said.

"I asked him what happened but he didn't answer me," van Rensburg said. "He was in tears."

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