PRETORIA, South Africa – Oscar Pistorius' defense team called an anesthetist to testify at the double-amputee runner's murder trial Thursday in an attempt to counter prosecution claims that Pistorius is lying about the timeline of events on the night he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Prof. Aina Christina Lundgren was being 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. An expert testifying for the prosecution said a person's stomach is normally empty of food six hours after eating and 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. Pistorius says he mistook her for an intruder hiding behind the closed toilet stall door. He testified the couple had dinner at around 7 p.m. on the night she was killed, and they were in bed around 10 p.m. Pistorius shot Steenkamp after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2013.
Lundgren, who described herself as a specialist anesthetist, testified that there are 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.
Lundgren was presented by the defense to try and undermine the testimony of pathologist Prof. Gert Saayman, who said it was his opinion that Steenkamp ate much later than Pistorius says, possibly even at around 1 a.m. when the runner claims they were in bed. Lundgren said it was difficult to be exact about the rate of digestion and it was "speculative to attempt to estimate when she had last eaten."
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel cross-examined Lundgren and pointed to Saayman's findings that he could even identify vegetable and cheese matter in Steenkamp's stomach.
"Would you not have expected the digestive process to have caused the contents to be unrecognizable after eight hours?" Nel asked Lundgren.
"I can't comment," she replied.
"But he can, and he did," Nel said of Saayman's report. The state pathologist was present in the courtroom and Nel asserted that his evidence was "more probable."
Replying to Nel's questions, Lundgren said she was a clinician and unwilling to criticize Saayman, a pathologist. However, later on re-examination by chief defense lawyer Barry Roux, she said she did not agree with Saayman's assertion that Steenkamp ate at 1 a.m. or after.
Pistorius' lawyers also said in a statement Thursday that an offer to buy the villa where the Olympian killed Steenkamp had been accepted and the sale of the house was being processed. Pistorius is selling his home in the gated community in the South African capital Pretoria to help with his legal bills. His trial is now into its seventh week of testimony.
Lawyer Brian Webber said they would not identify who was buying the house or the amount it was being sold for until the sale was finalized. Pistorius last year valued the house at about $450,000.