State Says Pistorius Murder Defense ‘Domino Effect of Lies’Paul Burkhardt and Andre Janse van Vuuren
The prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius said the athlete gave conflicting evidence and that he deliberately fired when he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.
“We say that the tailoring of evidence must have a domino effect,” Gerrie Nel said as he presented his final arguments today at the High Court in Pretoria, the capital, outlining the main discrepancies in the athlete’s testimony. “If one piece of the mosaic is moved, the rest have to move as well to keep the picture intact. What I’m trying to indicate to you” is “the domino effect of lies,” he said.
Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder. He has said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he fired four shots through a locked toilet cubicle door in a bathroom at his home, and later said he discharged the weapon in reaction to hearing a sound. The prosecution says he killed her after an altercation. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder.
Pistorius’s version is that he fired upon hearing the sound in the bathroom, with Steenkamp standing upright and facing the door, which was directly in front of her, Nel said.
She then fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in March. It was “physically impossible for her to have caused the movement” that would create any sound before the first shot, Nel said.
“We argue that there was no sound or startle,” he said. “It was just the accused firing four shots through the door with the direct intention to kill.”
Even if Judge Thokozile Masipa accepts that Pistorius acted in self-defense, the state argues the athlete “can’t escape” a finding “at the very least” of intent through the legal concept of “dolus eventualis,” where he foresaw the possibility that he may shoot and kill someone, Nel said.
“He had lots of time for reflection,” the prosecutor said. “He made up his mind in the bedroom where he armed himself. I don’t know when he armed himself, but he made up his mind. That, my lady, is pre-planning, not pre-planning for months, but at least when I arm myself and I plan to kill and I get there and I kill, then I planned it.”
Barry Roux, for the defense, said the state “must show that the proven facts only justify one inference and that it excludes all other reasonable inferences.” The prosecution is “unable to deal with material objective evidence” that shows other possibilities of what could have happened. Roux will continue tomorrow.
Both parties filed their final-argument documents, which Masipa prohibited from being published before they were presented in court, after she adjourned the Paralympian’s hearing on July 8.
“These arguments are so important,” Marius du Toit, a criminal defense lawyer based in Pretoria, said on Aug. 4. “This is your last effort in swaying the court’s opinion. This is crucial for both the state and the defense.”
Pistorius’s father, Henke, was in court for the first time since the trial started, as was Steenkamp’s father, Barry.
Throughout the 40-day trial, which started on March 3, defense lawyer Roux has portrayed Pistorius as a victim of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp.
Prosecutor Nel depicted Pistorius as a short-tempered gun-lover who shot Steenkamp in a fit of rage.
The athlete has also pleaded not guilty to three separate gun-related charges.
Judge Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could also consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t intentional.
Masipa may take a month to return a verdict, Du Toit said. “It might take even longer,” he said. “Because of the importance of this case, we might get back in a month or two.”
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February last year.
The athlete and his cousin were involved in an altercation at a nightclub in the wealthy northern Johannesburg suburb of Sandton last month when they were approached by a man who “aggressively interrogated him” about the murder trial, spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said on July 14. An argument ensued and Pistorius soon left the club, she 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 manufactures the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.