News / Africa

Anesthetist, Social Worker Testify in Pistorius Murder Trial

South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his murder trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, May 8, 2014.
South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his murder trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, May 8, 2014.

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Oscar Pistorius' defense team called an anesthetist to testify at the double-amputee runner's murder trial on Thursday, and, later, a social worker assigned to Pistorius’ case described him as heartbroken over the shooting.

Professor Aina Christina Lundgren was called in an attempt to counter prosecution claims that Pistorius is lying about the timeline of events on the night he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Lundgren was questioned on her expertise regarding how long it takes a person to digest food after eating.

The testimony relates to an autopsy report on Steenkamp's body that said she still had food in her stomach after she was killed by Pistorius, leading prosecutors to challenge his story that the couple last ate around eight hours before he shot her through a toilet door.

Food digestion

An expert testifying for the prosecution said a person's stomach is normally empty of food six hours after eating and claimed Steenkamp ate much later on the night of the killing and not in line with Pistorius' story.

Prosecutors say that's because the couple were up arguing late into the night before Pistorius shot Steenkamp multiple times in the midst of a heated fight through a toilet stall door in his bathroom.

Lundgren, who described herself as a specialist anesthetist, testified that there were a number of factors that could have delayed the digestion process in Steenkamp to explain the food found in her stomach, including that she was a pre-menopausal woman and had been sleeping.

Pistorius has denied the murder charge, saying he killed Steenkamp by mistake on Feb. 14, 2013, thinking she was an intruder when he shot her multiple times.

Also testifying Thursday, Yvette Schalkwyk, who has been visiting Pistorius since Steenkamp's death, dismissed suggestions that Pistorius, who has broken down repeatedly in court, was using his emotions to deflect tough questioning.

"I was very upset when I read that people were saying that Oscar took acting lessons," she told the Pretoria High Court. "I wanted to come and give my observation of what I saw."

Schalkwyk said Pistorius, 27, had told her he missed Steenkamp, 29, a law graduate and model, a great deal and was crying "80 percent of the time.”

Steenkamp died almost instantly after being hit by four hollow-point 9mm rounds fired through a toilet door.

Pistorius says it was a tragic mistake after he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder who had broken into his luxury Pretoria home. The state alleges that he shot her in a fit of rage after the couple had an argument.

Testimony found relevant

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel criticized Schalkwyk's evidence as irrelevant, but judge Thokozile Masipa said her views were valid, especially because Nel had accused the athlete of breaking down whenever he came under pressure on the witness stand.

If convicted of murder, Pistorius faces life in prison.

The trial, which has been running since early March, has drawn huge interest internationally and in South Africa, where it has been broadcast live on a dedicated cable television channel.

Before the shooting, Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, was one of the most recognized names in athletics, competing against able-bodied sprinters on carbon-fibre prosthetics.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP.

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