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Pistorius prosecutors expect to wrap up case early

Published: 3:05AM Thursday March 20, 2014 Source: AP

Prosecutors expect to wrap up their murder case against Oscar Pistorius early next week after calling "four or five" more witnesses, they have told a surprised courtroom.

The prosecution has called only 18 witnesses so far; police investigators, neighbours, a security guard, some of Pistorius' friends, a former girlfriend and a firearms trainer who was selling Pistorius more guns.

It is expected that the double-amputee will be called as the first witness in the defence case which could start as early as Tuesday next week.

A police ballistics expert was the latest witness to give testimony at the trial. He said Reeva Steenkamp was standing in a toilet cubicle and facing the closed door when she was hit in the right hip by the first of four bullets that he fired.

Steenkamp fell back onto a magazine holder in the cubicle and crossed her arms over her head to protect herself, said Capt. Christiaan Mangena. The second bullet missed Steenkamp and ricocheted off the wall and broke into fragments, bruising her back, he said.

Steenkamp was then hit in her right arm and in the head by the third and fourth shots fired by Pistorius with his 9 mm pistol, he said. She collapsed with her head on the toilet seat, Mangena said.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with premeditated murder in Steenkamp's shooting death on February 14 last year and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He says he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake through a locked door in his bathroom because he thought she was a dangerous nighttime intruder.

Pistorius says Steenkamp went to use the toilet during the night without him knowing, but prosecutors charge he killed her after a loud argument that caused her to flee and hide in the toilet area. Neighbors have testified to hearing loud screaming before and during the shots being fired.

Mangena, the ballistics expert, concluded that one of the final two bullets fired by Pistorius went through Steenkamp's left hand, which she held over her head, before it penetrated her skull. The policeman said he couldn't determine the order of the last two shots.

As Mangena threw his hands up to cover his head in court to re-enact Steenkamp's cowering position, and described details of the head wound, Pistorius put his fingers in his ears in an apparent attempt to block out the testimony.

June Steenkamp, Reeva's mother, was in the courtroom and occasionally glanced at photos of the bloody scene of her daughter's shooting.

Mangena said the bullet that struck Steenkamp's skull broke into two fragments, one of which exited her head and struck the wall behind her. The first shot into the right hip broke Steenkamp's hip bone, Mangena said.

"I'm of the opinion that after this wound was inflicted, my lady, she dropped immediately," Mangena said, addressing the judge. Steenkamp slumped into a "seated or semi-seated position" on top of the magazine rack in the cubicle, where she was hit another two times, he said.

Pistorius fired from a distance of at least 60 centimeters and no further than 3 metres away, where there was a wall behind him, Mangena said. He described the impact of the hollow point bullets in Pistorius' gun, which were designed to cause maximum damage to an intended target.

"It hits the target, it opens up, it creates six talons, and these talons are sharp," Mangena said. "It cuts through the organs of a human being."

The defense said it would challenge Mangena's testimony regarding the sequence of the shots.

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