South African Prosecutor Gerrie Nel attacked Paralympics champion Oscar Pistorius’ testimony in Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, and forced him to admit that he had made mistakes in his statements. Exposing “contradictions” in Pistorius’ account of events on that fateful night, Nel contends that the athlete is an unreliable witness. The prosecutor questioned Pistorius’ statements about what happened before he fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius is accused of shooting Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013 at his home in an upscale guarded neighborhood of Pretoria, South Africa. Facing 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder, the double-amputee sprinter has claimed that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and fatally shot her, sight unseen, through a closed bathroom door.
On Friday, the exchange between Nel and Pistorius centered round what the prosecutor referred to as “the crux of the case,” of what Steenkamp was thinking in the moments before she died. The prosecutor asked the star athlete why he hadn’t taken himself and his girlfriend to safety when he thought there was an intruder in the bathroom, instead of firing the gun. Pistorius said that he could not comment on what ifs, and insisted that he had thought Steenkamp was in bed. According to him, he walked towards the bathroom door with his gun to protect her from the so-called intruder.
Pistorius claimed that he screamed at Steenkamp to call the police and to the supposed intruder to get out of the house. When asked why she had not called out to Pistorius as he yelled out to her or as four shots were pumped in the small toilet cubicle, the athlete said it was because she was terrified. Rejecting that explanation, the prosecutor attacked Pistorius’ testimony and said that she didn’t scream for help because “[s]he wasn’t scared of anything, except you. She wasn’t scared of an intruder. She was scared of you.”
Then, Nel focused on the athlete’s alleged fear of criminal intrusion and his home’s security measures. The 27-year-old athlete was asked why he believed that an intruder could get past the high-end security system that had been installed on his property, and included interior and exterior sensors. Pistorius responded by saying that he had been worried that the building contractors working on his house may have moved some of the sensors. With Pistorius being unsure of when or whether he turned the alarm on, the tough-spoken prosecutor accused Pistorius of “tailoring evidence.”
Denying that he was fabricating a cover-up, Pistorius tearfully insisted that his story had always remained the same, and that he was misspeaking because he was tired. This led the presiding Judge Thokozile Masipa, to interrupt the proceedings and ask Pistorius if he was too exhausted to continue. The Olympic athlete denied being too tired and the testimony continued along the same lines till it was adjourned until Apr. 14.
With elements of celebrity and fame, the case has caught the imagination of people worldwide. In South Africa, Pistorius is seen as a hero, who overcame a double amputation to become a world-class athlete. The trial is being broadcast live in the country but Pistorius chose not to give testimony on camera, and can only be heard.
But the Blade Runner, so-called because of his use of J-shaped prosthetic running blades, has lost his sheen since the alleged murder of his girlfriend. Since the trial started on Mar.3, he has repeatedly been accused of being an arrogant hothead with a penchant for guns, who had on occasion been verbally abusive towards Steenkamp in public.
Before being accused of murdering Steenkamp in cold blood, the 27-year-old athlete lived a privileged life in Pretoria with a successful world-class running career and endorsement deals with Nike, Oakley and Ossur hf, an Icelandic prosthetics blade company. He has since lost those sponsorship deals.
Pistorius, who has been out on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year, can expect his future testimony to be scrutinized and attacked by the prosecutor as he builds up his case of premeditated murder. A verdict in the Pistorius case is expected in the middle of May, which Judge Masipa will deliver in collaboration with two experts called assessors, since South Africa does not have a jury system.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay