Full coverage of the Pistorius trial
Pretoria: Edging towards the end of his cross-examination, prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Oscar Pistorius who the world should blame for the athlete’s actions in shooting Reeva Steenkamp dead.
After all, the wily Mr Nel said, Mr Pistorius says he is blameless because he just made a “terrible mistake” that night, reacting instinctively to a noise like “wood moving” in his toilet cubicle that he thought was made by a dangerous intruder.
“So who should we blame for the fact that you shot her?” Mr Nel said, casting his arm around the court, as though anyone would do. “Should we blame Reeva? She never told you she was going to the toilet, should we not blame her?”
“No, my lady,” came the quick response, addressed to the judge.
Was it the government then, Mr Nel continued, for not doing enough about South Africa’s crime problem, leaving the disabled athlete apparently so paranoid of attack that he would shoot at a closed bathroom door?
“I don’t know who [is to blame], my lady,” he said.
“You must be blaming somebody for this?”
“I don’t, my lady, I believed there was a threat.”
Mr Pistorius’ penchant for blame-shifting had been a recurring theme over the course of Mr Nel’s tough cross-examination, and the questions were a fitting way to end his take-down of the international sporting icon.
After days in full attack mode, Mr Nel’s climax was simply stated.
“You shot four shots though that door knowing she was talking to you … you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her,” Mr Nel said.
“That is not true, my lady,” Mr Pistorius replied.
“And after that you were overcome by what you had done … because you had intended to kill her?”
“That is not true, my lady.”
For five days, it had been the kind of clash relished by sports lovers as much as court watchers – the Pit Bull prosecutor and the Blade Runner engaged in a battle that could have only one winner.
If the look on Mr Pistorius’ face was anything to go by as he slumped back in the dock after seven days in the witness box, the answer was obvious.
Mr Nel had been his tormenter: the experienced prosecutor’s precision cross-examination laid out a compelling argument that Mr Pistorius’ version of events is utterly implausible.
Mr Pistorius appeared to be caught out and confused on numerous occasions, flatly denying minor facts that were easily proven.
Nonetheless he stuck to his central story, claiming he had mistaken Ms Steenkamp for an intruder that night, firing four bullets at his toilet door in a panic but adamant he had not intended to kill.
Mr Nel alleged numerous discrepancies in Mr Pistorius’ version, highlighting that the Olympian was a stickler for detail on some matters and had a complete memory blank on others.
Mr Nel stepped Mr Pistorius through the minutiae of his version, citing numerous inconsistencies, contradictions and “tailoring” of evidence.
The athlete was also accused of using his tearful outbursts to avoid difficult questions and also changing his defence from one of self-defence, in which he genuinely believed he was acting lawfully, to another available – that of an “involuntary action”.
By the time Mr Pistorius left the witness box, Mr Nel had presented a compelling picture of what the state alleges took place on the night Ms Steenkamp died based on the versions of “ear witnesses”, ballistics and forensic experts and evidence found at the crime scene.
The state alleges that the couple had an argument, and the young model and law graduate packed her bag to leave. There was perhaps a tussle over her jeans, the only item not neatly folded in her gym bag, after which Ms Steenkamp fled to the bathroom in fear of her life as Mr Pistorius grabbed his weapon, likely following her screaming: “Get the f— out of my house.’’
Ms Steenkamp locked herself in the toilet with her mobile phone, and the couple may have continued to argue for some time.
Eventually, Mr Pistorius opened fire, the first bullet striking Ms Steenkamp in the hip as she stood close to the closed bathroom door.
She screamed and fell backwards onto a wooden magazine rack. The second bullet missed, but ricocheted off a wall and hit her on her back. A third struck her right upper arm, the fourth entering her skull through her left hand, raised to her head in a protective position.
“You knew Reeva was behind the door and you shot at her. That’s the only thing that makes sense,” Mr Nel said in summary.
“She was talking to you – she was standing right in front of the bathroom door talking to you when you shot her [wasn’t she?]”
“No she wasn’t.”
Mr Nel: “She wasn’t scared of any intruder, she was scared of you.”
“It’s not true, my lady,” Mr Pistorius replied in a small voice.
The court has now adjourned until May 5, when the defence will resume, calling about 10 more witnesses.
After that, Judge Thokozile Masipa is likely to adjourn for a further month to enable both sides to make their closing submissions in writing before final argument takes place.