The chief security guard for Oscar Pistorius’ gated community took the stand on Monday morning. Guard Pieter Baba said that when he spoke to Pistorius via phone just after Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the Paralympian stated that “everything is fine”. Baba, who speaks through a translator, defended his claims to defense attorney Barry Roux who challenged, claiming that that what the accused really said was “I’m fine.” Neighbors phoned the security office after hearing gunshots, and Baba called Pistorius. Roux suggested that he would recall Baba at a later time.
Pistorius, who had become an international celebrity for competing in both Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012, shot and killed Steenkamp on February 14, 2013, claiming he thought she was a burglar. The state claims that Pistorius killed his girlfriend in a fit of rage. The prosecution has called several neighbors who claimed to have heard a woman, presumably Steenkamp, screaming.
Defense attorney Barry Roux has developed a reputation as a tough cross-examiner. Along with the security guard, Roux challenged the testimony of neighbors Charl and Michelle Burger. He accused the couple of colluding with prosecution to convict his client. The pair deny the allegations. Michelle Burger burst into tears as she talked about waking to hear “petrified screams.” Roux responded by asking how she could hear so clearly from 170 meters away, she cried again as she explained to the prosecutor that her memory was so vivid that she relived it daily. The defense has claimed that the high-pitched screams could have come from a terrified Pistorius. Former Pistorius girlfriend Samantha Taylor stated that he never screamed in such a high pitch. However upon cross-examination by Roux, admitted she had never seen him that frightened.
Roux continued aggressive defense while cross-examining neighbor and doctor Johan Stipp. The doctor acknowledged that Pistorius was distraught, crying and begging God to save his dying girlfriend. The lawyer suggested that Steenkamp could not have let loose the high-pitched screams because she was already unconscious or dead. Stipp acknowledged the logic. Perhaps most importantly, Dr, Stipp acknowledged to the court Pistorius’ obvious desire for Steenkamp to live on the night of the shooting.
In 2013 Roux won Pistorius parole by dismantling the testimony of then lead police investigator, Hilton Botha. The press described Botha, a police officer with over 20 years of experience, as “a stuttering wreck,” who admitted having no facts that would deny parole.
Journalist Lucy Thornton has described Roux as going from “bumbling poodle to snarling rottweiler” at the drop of a hat. She went on to comment that he cares little for the target’s emotional state. He repeats earlier questions in order to reveal inconsistent responses depending on the witness’ mood.
The trial could last up to three weeks. South Africa does not have trial by jury, and Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will decide guilt or innocence.
As lead attorney for the Pistorius defense, Barry Roux has guarded his client aggressively. His challenges to neighbors and community security have put prosecution almost on the defensive. Whether this zeal leads to an acquittal however, remains to be seen.
By Ian Erickson