Pretoria: Graphic images of a bloody and deceased Reeva Steenkamp have accidentally flashed up in a South African court, prompting her boyfriend and accused killer Oscar Pistorius to violently throw up in the dock.
Earlier, he had remained unmoved as crime scene photographs of the toilet cubicle where she was shot and killed were shown on screens in the court.
He was impassive as a police forensic expert was shown a number of crime scene images as part of his cross-examination, including Pistorius’ blood-smeared prosthetic legs.
Pistorius, who had been wearing glasses to write notes to his legal team, recoiled and covered his face when the Pretoria High Court was initially shown a photo of Ms Steenkamp’s bloody body slumped in the toilet cubicle.
But when far more graphic, close-up images of the young model and law graduate’s head and body after the shooting became visible on the screens in the court by mistake, Pistorius’ reaction was extreme.
He immediately began gagging, and shortly thereafter was seen to repeatedly throw up in the dock.
His sister Aimee rushed to his side as the court adjourned, completing the evidence of Colonel Johan Vermeulen.
Distraught family friends of Ms Steenkamp were also visibly upset, although whether they saw the images was not clear.
Pistorius continued to retch into a hastily produced bucket as the judge went off the bench, before composing himself. He was seen angrily talking to his lawyers in the break, complaining about the situation.
As the court adjourned, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel had told Judge Masipa his team needed time to set up for the next witness due to the “graphic photographs” which would be discussed.
The next witness was due to be Colonel van Rensberg, the station commander at the time of the incident.
The 30-year police veteran resigned late last year after it became known he kept Pistorius’ toilet door in his office for a week or so instead of in the evidence room.
The South African police’s handling of crucial evidence in the case is the focus of day nine of the athlete’s murder trial, as Pistorius’ legal team seeks to discredit the investigation as incompetent and shoddy.
The court has already heard claims officers may have trampled on the toilet door, through which Pistorius shot Ms Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, leaving footprints on it.
The door, a crucial piece of evidence in the case, has provided the basis of a claim by police Colonel Vermeulen that the accused was not wearing his prosthetic legs at the time he fired four bullets through the toilet cubicle door, and also when he then grabbed a cricket bat to try and reach his dying girlfriend.
Pistorius claims he had put his prosthetic legs on by the time he smashed the door with his cricket bat.
During evidence on Thursday morning, Pistorius wore glasses and wrote notes as his barrister Barry Roux SC questioned Col Vermeulen in minute detail about a number of statements he had made the previous day.
The police officer, the first of many to be called in the trial, tentatively agreed with the defence proposition that a mark on the door could be consistent with the accused trying to kick the door down with his prosthesis.
Mr Roux told the court in his questioning that Pistorius would demonstrate that it was "very easy" for him to have kicked the door in the position suggested, near the handle.
The initial photos shown to the court on a projector were of the toilet cubicle, showing the door with one of its panels on the blood-smeared tiled floor.
Pistorius appeared not to react to those images, even leaning slightly forward to observe the pictures.
In contrast, one of Ms Steenkamp's "Johannesburg family", Desi Myers, appeared to cry quietly in the court before she left the court in distress.
A short time later, as the court official flipped through other images to reach one requested by Mr Roux, gasps rang through the court as the image of Ms Steenkamp's bloodied body was seen fleetingly.
Pistorius reacted along with the public gallery, quickly covering his face with his hands, resting forward on the wooden panelling of the dock.
He remained like that for a few moments, before turning to upright when the questioning of Col Vermeulen moved to another topic.
On Monday, Pistorius gagged, vomited and sobbed through the evidence of a pathologist, who had conducted the autopsy of Ms Steenkamp.