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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius bent over in his seat and retched violently at his murder trial Monday as a pathologist graphically detailed the wounds that killed the double-amputee Olympic runner’s girlfriend.

It was by all appearances a harrowing day for Pistorius, who is accused of the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. Earlier, during a court break, he was hunched over and deeply upset, with his sister, Aimee, and brother, Carl, hugging him.

Steenkamp was staying at the athlete’s house on the night of the killing. Prosecutors allege that he shot her intentionally after she locked herself in a toilet off the bathroom, but he contends that he mistook her for a burglar and killed her accidentally. Pistorius fired the four shots that killed her.

Pistorius retched loudly as details of the postmortem examination were read out in court during the morning and afternoon. At one point, a court official moved the microphone near his seat in the dock so that the sounds would be less audible.

His retching was loudest as Steenkamp’s head injuries were detailed. Barry Roux, Pistorius’ attorney, told the court that the athlete was extremely upset and that his emotional state would not improve as the evidence continued to be presented.

Pathologist Gert Saayman described a massive head wound caused when a bullet hit Steenkamp in the head and traveled under her skin before penetrating her skull. The bullet then split into two, he said, with one fragment exiting the body.

He said another bullet entered her upper right arm, shattering the bone and then exiting the body. A third bullet entered near her right hip, he said. The pathologist also testified that she had a small wound between the fingers of one hand and that a fourth bullet was found, along tissue and blood, in the black sleeveless vest she had been wearing.

Saayman said the bullets were of a type referred to as Black Talon-style ammunition, which is designed to flatten out and expand on contact. He said the bullets were specifically designed to cause the maximum possible damage to the target.

The bullets, he said, open out like the petals of a flower on contact, with very sharp, jagged edges that cause maximum tissue damage. He showed the court a photograph with the remains of jagged, flattened bullet near the base of Steenkamp’s skull.

He said the bullet appeared to have entered from the top of the head and traveled downward. This could be explained by Steenkamp bending her head forward at the time of the shot, he said. One bullet hit the hip bone and broke into many pieces, he said.

Saayman said South African forensic pathologists deal with gunshot injuries often and that he was familiar with expanding bullets and the damage they cause.

He testified that Steenkamp also had an abrasion in the middle of her back that could have been caused by impact with a hard object or by a bullet that had spent its force and struck the area without penetrating. He also detailed abrasions on the chest, which he said may have been caused by a bullet that had lost energy and grazed the body without entering.

He said the hip injury would have made it difficult for Steenkamp to remain standing and that the injury to her arm would have made it impossible to use the limb. Steenkamp would have immediately have lost consciousness after the shot to her head, he said.

Judge Thokozile Masipa banned the live broadcast, tweeting or blogging of Saayman’s testimony after a motion from the prosecution — supported by the defense — arguing that the evidence was so graphic it would harm the Steenkamp family and other people listening, potentially including children.

Masipa’s ruling banning tweeting from the courtroom was controversial, with some legal and media experts tweeting that it was out of line with previous South African trials in which evidence from postmortem examinations was read to the court and reported by journalists via Twitter.

“Is this trial different because Oscar is famous and rich?” tweeted Pierre De Vos, a constitutional law expert at the University of Cape Town. “All accused (and families of victims) should be treated the same,” he said in another tweet.

AFP Photo/Bongiwe Mchunu

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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