After state prosecutors in Pretoria ended their case against Oscar Pistorius, the defense team hopes to clear the paralympian’s name by examining and explaining the main points of the murder case. Pistorius’ 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was killed Valentine’s Day 2013. Pistorius will sit as a witness and be questioned first by the defense and then cross-examined by the prosecution.
The first main point of the case has centered around numerous accounts of audible screams. Five people took to the witness stand during the prosecution and claimed they heard screams the night Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp. While Pistorius does not deny shooting his girlfriend, he maintains he tragically mistook her for an intruder and shot through the bathroom door, in fear of his life.
On March 24, a neighbor of the gated community where Pistorius was living, Anne Stipp, testified she heard a woman screaming during the night in question. The testimony of Mrs. Stipp has played a crucial role in the trial so far, as it has played to the strengths of both sides. She testified to hearing three shots and, “moments after…heard a lady screaming…terrified screaming. [It] just continued….[and] did not stop.”
Mrs. Stipp told the court after hearing three shots and the subsequent screaming, she then heard a second round of three shots. Both the prosecution and defense agree there were only four shots fired, all within a very small time frame. The prosecution argued that Ms. Steenkamp screamed and the shots heard after were those fired by Pistorius. The defense argues that the witness heard the initial three shots, but that the screams she heard were those from Pistorius, realizing what he had done. The second round of “shots,” the defense argued, were the sounds of a cricket bat Pistorius used to get inside the bathroom to Ms. Steenkamp.
The second main point addressed in the defense of Oscar Pistorius will be his behavior with guns. On March 7, an ex-girlfriend of Pistorius, Samantha Taylor took the stand. She described Pistorius to the court as a rash man who is irresponsible with guns. She gave a vague account of Pistorius firing a shot out of the sunroof of a car while in the passenger seat. Ms. Taylor could not give a specific date or location of the event.
On March 5, boxer Kevin Lerena, an acquaintance of Pistorius, also testified with concerns over gun behavior. Lerena said he, Pistorius and two friends were at a Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013, when the paralympian asked his friends to lie about a shot he fired. According to the testimony, Pistorius was handed a gun underneath the table, told it was loaded and fired it. The shot grazed Lerena’s foot.
Lerena said he remembered Pistorius saying, “just say it was you. I don’t want any tension. There [is] too much media hype around me.'” The prosecution believes these testimonies pair with a gun safety expert’s statements to show Pistorius was reckless with guns. On March 18, Sean Rens, who was a gun safety teacher said Pistorius was fully aware that to shoot at a target, you must first identify it. Rens said, “the night of the shooting…[he] broke every rule.” The defense will argue that Pistorius was not reckless in either the event with Ms. Taylor or Mr. Lerena. Additionally, they will argue that Pistorius was in such a fit of fear, the gun safety rules cannot apply.
The last main point the defense will examine is the relationship history of Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp. Messages between the two revealed on March 24 from WhatsApp upheld the prosecution and the sentiments from Ms. Taylor. In a message to Pistorius less than three weeks before the shooting, Steenkamp said to Pistorius, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how [you] snap at me…and…react to me.”
In response to Ms. Steenkamp’s sentiments, Pistorius did not directly answer her fears, but rather apologized for his actions. “I am sorry for the things I say, ” he said. “I was upset…you just left me…to go talk to a guy and I was standing…behind you watching you touch his arm and ignore me.” The prosecution plans to use these messages as evidence of a dangerous relationship, wherein Steenkamp may have been in danger she was not fully aware of. However, the defense will maintain that Pistorius and Steenkamp had what he called a “loving relationship,” and the fights they shared were of a normal nature.
If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius may face a life sentence. It is possible that defense lawyer Barry Roux will request the discharge of the case, claiming the prosecution did not put forth enough incriminating evidence, though this is unlikely. Legal expert and lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Kelly Phelps, says the testimony of Pistorius could help the defense rid the charge of culpable homicide, the “backup” charge.
Phelps, while believing Pistorius will be charged with culpable homicide, said there is a chance he could be acquitted on all homicide charges. She said, “his status as a double-amputee, and the evidence…we suspect he is going [give]…about his intense fear and paranoia [of intruders]” may lead to an entirely successful defense. “The combination of those factors,” she said,”[and that] he is [objectively] more physically vulnerable-…could be harnessed by [the] defense team to…argue that his conduct was…reasonable.”
The defense of Oscar Pistorius will begin this Friday with a main focus on the accounts of screaming, gun behavior and relationship evidence. The case is expected to continue despite rumors of possible discharging by defense lawyer, Barry Roux.
By Erin P. Friar