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Pistorius Prosecutor Says Athlete Changing Murder Defense

South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, second right, leaves the North Gauteng High Court during his ongoing murder trial in Pretoria on April 10, 2014. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

April 14 (Bloomberg) -- The prosecution argued Paralympian Oscar Pistorius changed his defense argument today in the trial for the killing of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp from self defense to involuntary action.

The double-amputee, who pleaded not guilty in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, to the charge of murder for shooting Steenkamp in his home on Valentine’s Day last year, says he thought there were intruders in his home and that his life was in danger, while also saying he fired four shots at the toilet cubicle door “accidentally.”

“Out of fear or accident? Because I don’t understand your defense,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel said to Pistorius, 27, during the fifth day of cross-examination. “You can’t have two. You understand that you can’t have two defenses?”

Nel has argued that Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked toilet door in his home after they had an argument, with neighbors testifying they heard shouting and a woman’s screams shortly after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, last year. The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV. Only audio broadcast of Pistorius’s testimony is allowed.

“I’m not saying I don’t know why, I’ve given the reason as to why I fired,” Pistorius said, minutes before breaking down crying for a second time. “I thought somebody was coming out to attack me.” Later, he said: “I fired because I got a fright.”

Pistorius said he wasn’t aiming at anything in particular and didn’t mean to kill anyone. He wasn’t thinking rationally before or after the shooting, Pistorius said.

Version Improbable

The runner was comforted by family members as the court adjourned each time he became emotional. Pistorius said on his first day of testimony he suffers nightmares about the shooting and is taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication. Nel said he was emotional because the questions were difficult.

Nel, again, put it to Pistorius that his version of events that morning was “improbable,” and accused the athlete of making up his answers to try ensure his version of events is plausible.

Pistorius’s argument that police tampered with the scene, moving items around his room, couldn’t be backed up, Nel said. A duvet that Pistorius said was placed on the floor from the bed by the police after the shooting had blood spatter on it, in line with droplets on the carpet next to the bedding, the prosecutor said.

Nel has 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. Judge Thokozile Masipa will give the final judgment in the case, which started on March 3, because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.

Bags Packed

Masipa could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules the act wasn’t premeditated.

Nel told the court that Steenkamp packed her clothes and was preparing to leave his house before the athlete shot and killed her.

“I’m saying, and it’s the state’s case, that she wanted to leave,” he said.

Nel said on April 11 that was impossible to believe Pistorius’s version that he was yelling to Steenkamp to call the police and she uttered no response while in a nearby toilet cubicle, standing facing the door.

“She is three meters away from you in the toilet and she never uttered a word. It’s not possible. She would be scared,” Nel said. “She was standing there talking to you when you shot her.”

Pistorius rejected Nel’s statement and said Steenkamp remained silent. “But why would she shout out?” he asked the prosecutor.

“Because you are in the room, sir,” said Nel.

Blade Runner

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 from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said.

Nel said the trajectory of the bullet holes through the door showed Pistorius adjusted his aim after hearing Steenkamp fall following the first shot.

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.

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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Paul Burkhardt in Pretoria at pburkhardt@bloomberg.net; Christopher Spillane in Johannesburg at cspillane3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net Gordon Bell, Karl Maier

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