Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius looked away when a photograph of his girlfriend’s bloodied head was broadcast live on television as prosecutor Gerrie Nel pressed him to “take responsibility” for killing her.
Nel, beginning his cross-examination of Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, today, urged Pistorius to look at the photograph of Reeva Steenkamp who he shot on Valentine’s day last year at his home. Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Steenkamp and testified that he thought he was shooting at a burglar.
“That’s it, have a look there, I know you don’t want to because you don’t want to take responsibility, but it’s time that you look at it,” Nel said. “Take responsibility for what you’ve done, Mr. Pistorius.”
Pistorius refused to look at the photograph.
Nel accused Pistorius of tailoring his evidence after the runner said on the stand he fired the gun “accidentally” and that he never intended to kill anyone.
“My life is on the line, of course I think of every single word I say when I’m sitting here,” said Pistorius, who didn’t look at Nel and focused on the judge through the cross-examination.
Nel responded: “Reeva doesn’t have a life anymore because of what you’ve done. She’s not alive anymore. So please listen to the questions and give us the truth and not think of the implications for you, Mr. Pistorius.”
Judge Thokozile Masipa will give a final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year. He is also facing three gun-related charges.
Masipa could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide.
Nel sought to undermine defense lawyer Barry Roux’s portrayal of Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp.
The prosecutor questioned him about a video in which Pistorius is seen shooting shotguns and pistols with friends. When one of his shots hit a watermelon and caused it to explode, Pistorius can be heard saying, “It’s a lot softer than brains” and “it’s like a zombie stopper.”
Then Nel, who has tried to show Pistorius is a gun lover, reckless with his firearms and has a short temper, said, “you know that the same happened to Reeva’s head? It exploded.”
The prosecution’s strategy to counter Roux’s positive image of the athlete succeeded, according to James Grant, Associate Professor of Criminal Law at Wits University in Johannesburg.
“Every little bit that was achieved by the stories of what a good Samaritan Oscar was and how he loves animals and of him being a good Christian, any good that had, was beyond reversed by the approach that Nel took in equating him firing at a watermelon to what he did to Reeva,” Grant said by phone.
The athlete was testifying for a third day after his murder trial was adjourned early yesterday when he broke down in uncontrollable wailing while testifying about finding her body.
Earlier, Pistorius battled through tears as he described carrying the bloody body of his girlfriend after shooting her through the toilet door.
Steenkamp was hit in the arm, hip and head and died in Pistorius’s home following the shooting after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14 last year. The prosecution has argued he fired the pistol after an argument, with neighbors testifying they heard a woman screaming before and after gunshots.
Pistorius has told the court he’s taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication. The athlete started his testimony two days ago by apologizing to Steenkamp’s family and friends for shooting her.
The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Only audio broadcast of Pistorius’s testimony is allowed.
Steenkamp was standing when the first hollow-point bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in testimony on March 19. She was struck by two more bullets after a pause, he said.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.