Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence questions pathologist claims

South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius attends his ongoing murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court on March 11, 2014, in Pretoria. Pistorius's defence lawyers on Tuesday probed a pathologist's explosive testimony that Reeva Steenk
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius attends his ongoing murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court on March 11, 2014, in Pretoria. Pistorius's defence lawyers on Tuesday probed a pathologist's explosive testimony that Reeva Steenkamp ate hours before she was killed, a claim that again put the Paralympian's version of events in doubt. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

PRETORIA (AFP) - Oscar Pistorius's defence lawyers on Tuesday probed a pathologist's explosive testimony that Reeva Steenkamp ate hours before she was killed, a claim that again put the Paralympian's version of events in doubt.

Forensic pathologist Gert Saayman told the murder trial - now in its second week - that Pistorius's girlfriend ate at about 1:00 am, roughly two hours before her Valentine's Day death last year.

That contradicts the South African star sprinter's claim that the pair were in bed asleep in his upmarket Johannesburg home for five hours before Ms Steenkamp was killed.

At around 3:00 am Pistorius shot the model and law graduate four times with a nine millimetre pistol in what prosecutors charge is premeditated murder but the double-amputee athlete says was an accident.

The 27-year-old claims he mistakenly shot Ms Steenkamp through a locked toilet door, believing she was an intruder. If found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces 25 years in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails and an abrupt end to his once glittering sporting career.

Prof Saayman told the North Gauteng High Court that an autopsy revealed Ms Steenkamp's stomach contained "vegetable material".

It is the latest in a chain of witness testimony that appears to call Pistorius's account of the fateful evening into question.

Neighbours have also testified that they heard a woman scream before the shots were fired, seemingly making it impossible Pistorius did not know where Ms Steenkamp was when he fired the shots.

The athlete's lawyer Barry Roux, now notorious for his aggressive interrogation style, questioned whether Prof Saayman could say with certainty what time that Ms Steenkamp ate. He asked whether she could have eaten a larger meal at an earlier time.

Prof Saayman admitted that was not an expert on "gastric emptying", but academic studies would suggest the food had been ingested about two hours before, and pointed out he had performed between 10,000 and 15,000 post-mortems.

Prof Saayman also testified that Ms Steenkamp could have gone to the toilet anytime within an hour of her death, offering qualified support for Pistorius's account of events.

On Monday, Pistorius retched loudly into a blue bucket as Prof Saayman detailed the impact of Steenkamp's wounds.

The 29-year-old model and budding reality television star was hit once in the top right of her head, once in the right elbow and once in the right hip. She was also struck in the webbing of her hand. Any of the head, arm or hip wounds could have caused Ms Steenkamp's death, Prof Saayman said.

The headshot "is in its own league," he said, "that will cause immediate incapacitation." Pistorius used "Black Talon" hollow-point bullets which mushroom open like a jagged flower on contact to cause maximum tissue damage, according to the post-mortem report.

As the court adjourned for a break Tuesday, Pistorius laughed with his lawyers, a rare show of good spirits from the runner, who has cried often throughout the trial.