The ugly truth behind Oscar Pistorius' bullet choice


The official website of Oscar Pistorius has suspended its usual activities promoting the sporting feats and charitable acts of the "blade runner".

Instead, its home page carries a statement from Pistorius on the loss of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot and killed, he contends mistakenly, on Valentine's Day last year. But the 27-year-old still manages to make it all about him.

"The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day," he writes, "I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

Steenkamp's mother, June, who has appeared completely unmoved by Pistorius' histrionic displays in court, will also carry that day with her for life. 

Mrs Steenkamp admits she has become "obsessed" with Pistorius, whom she never met before she saw him him in court, where he stands accused of murdering her daughter. He offered his first and only apology to her in the public forum of the court, as he opened his own defence.

Mrs Steenkamp spends most of her time in the courtroom with her stony maternal eye trained on her daughter's killer, trying to detect signs of his guilt as a murderer.

"I look at Oscar the whole time, to see how he is coping, how he is behaving. I'm obsessed with looking at him, it's just instinctive," she said this week. "He has been very dramatic ... I think he's just about keeping himself together. I don't know whether he's acting."

At times it seems as though he is overacting. On Wednesday, when shown a picture of Steenkamp's head - fatally wounded by the maximum-damage bullets he had loaded in his pistol on the night of the killing - Pistorius wailed like a Greek widow.

"I won't look at that picture. I remember! I was there!" he shouted tearfully.

The sight was gruesome. The back of the young law graduate's head had been blown off.

Pistorius seemed more traumatised by this than Steenkamp's mother, which is peculiar. He knew exactly what those bullets would do to a skull. He had, one presumes, not acquired them by accident - although he claims he was keeping the bullets "safe" for his father. He would have known that this particular ammunition was designed to cause catastrophic injury - whether unloaded into the head of a beautiful young woman, or into the head of a home intruder.

The bullets, made by arms and ammunition company Winchester, are themselves grotesque, let alone the outcome they promise. They are modelled on a design called "Black Talon", said to be famous, and so named because once they impact the body, the bullets expand into jagged "talons" that tear through flesh and maximise organ damage. Such expanding bullets, also called hollow-point bullets or "dum dums", are considered so cruel they were banned from use in international warfare under the Hague Convention of 1899.

Pistorius could not buy actual Black Talons, only copies of them. This is because the original Black Talons were withdrawn from sale by Winchester in the 1990s following public pressure, which included an outcry after they were used in mass shootings, and complaints from US surgeons about the sharp shrapnel they left in bodies.

In South Africa, police and the military are not allowed to use expanding bullets, but private citizens can buy them. Pistorius (or his father) was free to go into a gun store and order something designed to kill with great efficiency. He certainly seems to love guns. During a restaurant meal with friends last year,he asked to look at his mate's firearm under the table. We do not know if this occurred before the entrée or after the main, but we do know it discharged accidentally, leaving a hole in the restaurant floor and narrowly missing his pal's foot.

Other witness evidence, denied by Pistorius, has him firing a shot through a car sunroof on what was supposed to be a fun day out with his former girlfriend and another friend in 2012. It turned sour after they were pulled over by police, who were alarmed by the presence of Pistorius' gun lying casually on the car seat. Pistorius reacted to the police with aggression, it is claimed.

And then there were the whoops of delight audible in footage played in court on Wednesday, footage that showed Pistorius blasting a watermelon to oblivion with a rifle.

Pistorius' defence is that, on the night of Steenkamp's death, he was in the grip of some sort of panic attack or fugue state. He was, he says, terrified for his own personal safety because he believed an intruder had gotten into his en suite bathroom. He shot wildly at the door, he said, with no intention to kill anyone.

Even if you buy his story that he believed the person in the bathroom was an intruder, and not his girlfriend of three months, what does this say about Pistorius?

It says he was willing to extinguish the life of the faceless man on the other side of the door without ascertaining what he was doing there. With those bullets, there could have been no outcome other than death.

As the trial carries on, Mrs Steenkamp will keep watching her daughter's killer. As she said this week: "He's answerable to me".

Oscar Pistorius, looks on as he appears in the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa in 2013. Photo: AP

Oscar Pistorius, looks on as he appears in the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa in 2013. Photo: AP


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