In the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, murder accused Oscar Pistorius approached what he thought was terrifying danger, armed and ready to shoot. This is according to State prosecutor Advocate Gerrie Nel, who was cross-examining the world-famous athlete on the 21st day of a trial that has attracted the same kind of attention as the 1997 O. J. Simpson trial in the USA. Nel wanted to know why Pistorius, who has maintained he was “overcome by fear” and felt extremely vulnerable, had headed towards the terrifying noise he had heard instead of leaving the bedroom with Reeva Steenkamp and going downstairs to safety.
Pistorius has been charged with the murder of Reeva, his girlfriend at the time, as well as three lesser charges relating to guns and ammunition. He has admitted that he fired four shots into the door of the toilet in his en suite bathroom on the second floor of his luxury Pretoria home, but has pleaded not guilty to the charge saying that it was all a terrible accident. If convicted of murder he could face a life sentence, although he would probably be paroled and would likely only serve a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Oscar Pistorius Accused of Tailoring Evidence
Friday was the third day of cross-examination by Nel who has doggedly maintained that Pistorius’ story is a fabrication and that he has systematically been “tailoring his evidence.” Nel labeled his evidence as far-fetched and improbable, and even called him a liar, which resulted in a warning from Judge Thokozile Masipa who said: “Mr. Nel do not call the witness a liar while in the witness stand!”
Early in the day, after Pistorius had contradicted his own evidence relating to the alarm system at his home, he apologized to the court and said he had made a mistake. His voice choking, he said he was just “too tired.” Nel said he would give him time if he needed it, and the judge asked if he was too tired to proceed with the trial. She said it was important Pistorius was “all here” while in the witness-box and not at a disadvantage. “Are you making these mistakes because you are too tired?” she asked. He replied that he did not “need time” and would continue with cross-examination.
Later, after cross-examination relating to the bedroom where he and Reeva had been sleeping – including where two fans where, how much light was in the bedroom, and the way in which he had told Reeva to call the police – Nel again challenged him about not being truthful, and for continually saying he couldn’t remember certain things. Pistorius became very emotional, explaining that it was “a difficult time to remember. This is the night I lost the person that I cared about, I don’t know how people don’t understand that.”
After a short adjournment to give him time to compose himself, he agreed with Nel that his memory until the moment he fired four shots into his closed toilet door was good, and that thereafter it was “not so good.” Nel then challenged him for not mentioning in his bail application that he had spoken to Reeva before getting out of bed to move the fans from the open balcony door into the bedroom. Pisitorius said he could not explain this, but because of their conversation “thought she was awake and next to me” in the bed.
Last Moments Before the Fatal Shooting of Reeva Steenkamp
The defense case, presented on Tuesday, was that Pistorius woke up in the early hours of the morning. Reeva, he said, was also awake and asked if he was unable to sleep. He said he had found it difficult to go to sleep and was very hot. He got up on his stumps and moved two fans that he had positioned between the sliding doors leading to a balcony inside, even though he had asked Reeva to do this for him before she went to sleep. He closed the sliding doors and locked them, and drew the curtains. He could not remember whether or not he had closed the blinds.
This was the moment he heard the bathroom window open, immediately thinking a burglar was gaining access. He said initially he froze, and then he thought he must get his gun “to protect Reeva and I.” Overcome with fear, he started “shouting and screaming” for the burglar to get out of his house, and for Reeva to get down on the floor and call the police. He heard a door slam. Knowing it could only have been the toilet door slamming, this confirmed there were people, or a person, in the toilet, he said. He then stopped shouting because he didn’t want the intruders to know were he was.
With his pistol in his right hand, he slowly made his way from the bedroom along the “passage” between his cupboards, and peered into the bathroom. He saw a bathroom window was open and the toilet door was closed, and again screamed for Reeva to call the police. He said he was not sure if someone would come out of the toilet or up the ladder into the bathroom and attack him. He then heard a noise in the toilet and before he knew it, had fired four shots in quick succession. Ears ringing, he went back to the bedroom and realized Reeva was not there.
Under cross-examination Oscar Pistorius emphasized how vulnerable he felt when he heard the bathroom door open. There was “no doubt in my mind what I had heard,” he said, admitting that he made no attempt to check if Reeva was okay. He also admitted he did not wait for a response from her before he grabbed his gun and made his way to the bathroom. He said he wanted to get between the “sea of danger and Reeva.” He denied, though, that as he went towards the bathroom he was ready to shoot.
“A reasonable person would have looked where Reeva was. You did not, you just grabbed your gun,” said Nel, adding that the two of them could have retreated to the balcony, hidden behind the bed, or even better, left the bedroom.
I did not have time to think. I had to protect Reeva and I had to protect myself.
– Oscar Pistorius
He confirmed that he had released the safety mechanism of his gun as he moved towards the bathroom. This was so that if need be he could use it to “protect myself.” He said he was not sure what he would have done if he had seen someone; he would have had to defend himself, but was not certain if he would have fired.
You armed yourself and were ready to shoot.
– Advocate Gerrie Nel
Pistorius confirmed that he had felt vunerable, to which Nel responded that he could not “be vulnerable and approach the danger.” Since the main bedroom door was so close, he and Reeva could easily have left through it and gone downstairs to safety. “Instead you did the opposite. You approached the danger.”
Pistorius said he “was more terrified” that the intruders were not going to leave the house. He was also worried they might “ambush” him. Everything about the moment was “split decision,” he said. “They could have stuck their hand around the corner and fired at me.”
But you approached them.
– Gerrie Nel
Pistorius confirmed that he was clear in his mind that there was no-one in the bathroom. The toilet door was closed, he said, adding that earlier he had heard it slam shut. He could not answer Nel’s question why an intruder would enter his house, go into the toilet and close the door. “It is so far-fetched that it would happen, it is improbable,” Nel said. Furthermore, he was certain Reeva was not scared of an intruder, she was scared of Pistorius. “You have to explain why you did not take Reeva out of the bedroom door to safety.” Pistorius said he was not able to explain why he had not done this.
Several State witnesses have given evidence that they heard a woman screaming when the shots were fired. Asked whether he was “sure” that Reeva did not scream after the first shot, Pistorius kept quiet for a few moments, and then said he wished she had “let me know she was there. She did not do that.” Then he said she did not scream, though after he fired the shots (in quick succession) he could not hear anything because his ears were ringing. Asked if he would have been able to hear someone screaming, he conceded that he would not have been able to, but still insisted, “There was not a woman screaming.”
Then, Pistorius said, he heard a noise in the toilet that “sounded like wood moving.” He thought he heard the door opening – a statement Nel said was not on record. Feeling utterly vulnerable, and having approached danger, he said he thought “someone was coming out to attack me.” Nel commented that he had his eyes on the door and window, but only pointed the gun at the door; clearly he was ready to shoot. Cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius will continue on Monday morning, when he will be questioned about the four shots he fired and how he smashed the toilet door to get to the dying Reeva Steenkamp.
By Penny Swift