The prosecution ended its cross-examination of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in the trial for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, arguing the athlete murdered his model girlfriend in a fit of rage.
The double-amputee track star spent seven days on the stand in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, five of them being challenged by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel about Pistorius’s version that he thought he was shooting at an intruder in a toilet cubicle at his home on Valentine’s Day last year.
“Your version is not only untruthful but it is so improbable that it couldn’t have happened,” Nel said in wrapping up his argument. “Who should we blame for the black talon round that ripped through her?,” he said, referring to the make of bullet used.
Nel has argued that Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked door 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 was allowed.
Pistorius was excused from the witness box after defense lawyer Barry Roux asked him about his emotions at the time of the shooting.
“I was terrified, I was afraid for my life, I was scared what could happen to me,” Pistorius responded.
The athlete yesterday appeared to contradict his original claim of self defense when he said that he fired four shots through the door “accidentally.” Nel said that would mean Pistorius was claiming a defense of involuntary action.
“You understand that you can’t have two defenses?” Nel said yesterday.
“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. “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.
Pistorius’s argument that police tampered with the scene, moving items around his room, couldn’t be backed up, Nel said yesterday. 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.
Roger Dixon, a former police forensic specialist, said police officers acted “most unprofessionally” when someone walked over a panel of the door Pistorius broke to get to Steenkamp’s body after the shooting.
“Unless there’s an urgent need to save a life or to render an explosive device safe then there’s no pressing need to walk on the crime scene,” said Dixon, the first witness for the defense after the accused finished testifying.
Damage to the door from blows from the cricket bat used by Pistorius were consistent with him wearing his prosthetic legs, contrary to the state’s argument that he wasn’t wearing the artificial limbs at the time. A demonstration by the athlete also backed up the defense’s version, Roux said.
Nel has sought to undermine the defense’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, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules the act wasn’t premeditated. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of premeditated murder.
Masipa will give a decision tomorrow on the prosecution’s request for the trial to be adjourned until May 5, because of a series of holidays in South Africa over the next three weeks.
Nel told the court that Steenkamp packed her clothes and was preparing to leave his house before the athlete shot and killed her.
“She wanted to leave and you were arguing,” he said today.
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, according to police ballistics expert Chris Mangena. She was struck by two more bullets from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said on March 19.
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.