No Mr Nice Guy for Oscar

2014-03-30 14:00

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Paralympian Oscar Pistorius has fought many battles for equal treatment, but there will be no need for him to do so when he faces state prosecutor Gerrie Nel in a week’s time.

City Press understands Nel plans to show Pistorius no mercy under cross-examination.

A source familiar with the case said there would be no kid gloves for the athlete.

For Pistorius, the stakes could not be higher.

If he is caught out in a single lie, he could fail in his attempt to fend off a ­murder charge that could see him imprisoned.

Asked how he would defend Pistorius, a top Joburg senior counsel said: “I would put him on the stand and pray.

Some of the evidence against him is strong and his version is improbable enough that any slip-ups or contradictions by him could be ­fatal,” said the senior counsel, who asked not to be named.

“I would have gone with a temporary insanity defence,” said a top-flight criminal defence ­lawyer who was less optimistic about Pistorius’ chances.

Two other leading criminal lawyers agree Pistorius’ cross-examination could make or break the defence’s attempt to fend off the ­murder charge.

Pistorius was on Friday granted a brief ­reprieve when Judge Thokozile Masipa was forced to adjourn proceedings because one of two assessors, appointed to assist the judge in evaluating evidence, had fallen ill.

Pistorius spent much of last week preparing to take the stand on Friday, although he is not the defence’s first witness.

An anticipated legal squabble over whether Pistorius will testify first during the defence’s case has not materialised.

While there is no codified law compelling an accused to testify first, it could lead to an adverse inference being drawn about the ­accused’s testimony if he or she listened to the testimony of other defence witnesses first.

Prosecutors Andrea Johnson and Nel have agreed that ­Professor Jan Botha, who used to head the state’s forensic laboratory in Bloemfontein, will testify ­before Pistorius because of unspecified personal reasons.

It’s understood that Botha has been brought in to counter some of the tougher aspects of the prosecution’s case,­ despite the fact that he was not the pathologist who attended ­Reeva Steenkamp’s autopsy.

While an accused does not have to testify in their own defence, lawyers agree that Barry Roux has little choice but to call Pistorius ­because evidence about his state of mind at the time of the shooting is crucial and he is the only one who can provide it.

“If he doesn’t call Oscar, it will seem as if his client does not have an innocent version,” said the senior counsel.

If Pistorius performs well on the witness stand, it will open the door for the court to find that his version of events is reasonably, possibly true.

Roux will then be able to argue that Pistorius’ disability is such that his circumstances and reality cannot be ­compared with an able-bodied person’s.

“Roux will have to convince the court to ­accept a totally different perspective on what it is like to be a man without legs,” said the advocate.

The worst case scenario for Pistorius is if Nel manages to accomplish what he did with former police commissioner Jackie Selebi and catches Pistorius out in lies and contradictions. Following Nel’s cross-examination in that case, Judge Meyer Joffe found Selebi was a “liar” with “low moral fibre”.

In this scenario, says an experienced former prosecutor, Pistorius could well be convicted of murder.

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