All not lost for Oscar - expert

2014-04-16 05:30
Oscar Pistorius (Picture: Sapa)

Oscar Pistorius (Picture: Sapa)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Video

Oscar's trial - day 23 summary

2014-04-15 16:07

On day 23 of Oscar Pistorius's trial, Gerrie Nel concluded his cross examination and the defence resumed their case. Here's everything you need to know.WATCH

kalahari.com

Pretoria - For five days, Oscar Pistorius endured a withering cross-examination at his murder trial from a prosecutor who pounced on apparent inconsistencies in his testimony.

Yet, legal analysts said on Tuesday, expert witnesses who will testify for the defence could undermine the prosecution's efforts to prove Pistorius killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on purpose after an argument.

The demeanour of the Olympian, often fumbling for answers and occasionally breaking into sobs, contrasted with that of prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who called Pistorius a liar and unleashed volleys of barbed questions.

Social media buzzed that Pistorius is in deep trouble - a South African talk show host wryly observed that the double-amputee runner had not "covered himself with glory" when his cross-examination ended on Tuesday - but experts say the trial has a long way to go.

"Until the defence presents the rest of their case, you can't really evaluate the significance of any potential concessions that he may have made," said Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town.

The trial, which began on 3 March and is expected to hear testimony until mid-May, reached a key stage last week when Pistorius took the stand to testify about the circumstances of Steenkamp's killing in his home before dawn on 14 February 2013. The Paralympic champion, 27, says he shot the 29-year-old model through a closed toilet door after mistaking her for an intruder, but Nel catalogued what he said were conflicts in Pistorius's story that prove he made it up.

The prosecution provided a "very clear narrative for the first time" of what it says happened on the night of Steenkamp's death, Phelps said. The judge, she said, must decide whether Pistorius's inconsistencies were a result of his clumsily trying to polish a story that is true in its fundamentals, or instead revealed an "elaborate cover-up plot" after he murdered his lover.

Stuck to core parts

Phelps said the prosecution accused Pistorius of changing his account mostly on "smaller details" but that he had stuck to the "core parts of his story."

Some commentators have speculated that Pistorius could face a lesser homicide charge that still carries long prison time in the event of a conviction.

Still, during cross-examination, Pistorius gave a sometimes muddled account of the shooting. He said he feared for his life but also didn't intentionally shoot at anyone, prompting Nel to query if his defence was self-defence or "involuntary action".

Inconsistencies in the athlete's testimony include his statement that Steenkamp did not scream when he shot her, but later saying his ears were ringing with the first of four gunshots and he would not have heard screams.

A vital part of the prosecution's case is the testimony of neighbours who said they heard a woman's terrified screams on the night that Steenkamp died; the defence says they actually heard Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice.

Pistorius's credibility was further challenged by earlier testimony against him for three unrelated gun charges in which he denied any wrongdoing when questioned by Nel. Possibly in his favour was his lack of anger on the witness stand despite the prosecution's picture of him as overbearing and arrogant.

Nevertheless, Marius du Toit, a former state prosecutor, magistrate and now criminal defence lawyer, said Nel exceeded his goals in his cross-examination, even goading Pistorius into faulting his legal team while trying to clarify testimony.

'Double tap'

For example, chief defence lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius fired two quick bursts - the gun owner's terminology for such a burst is "double tap" - but Pistorius said he fired four shots in rapid succession.

Du Toit, however, said the defence, which plans to call up to 17 witnesses, could still make it hard for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

Du Toit said he wasn't convinced that the prosecution had shown that he intended to kill, noting Pistorius fired roughly level with Steenkamp's mid-section. Prosecution witnesses said the first bullet likely struck her in the hip.

"If you wanted to kill someone, you would shoot in the chest or the head," du Toit said, adding that it was "not all lost" for Pistorius even though the defence has a lot of hard work to do.

That work started right after Pistorius finished testifying. Roux, the defence lawyer, had the runner read out a Valentine's Day card from Steenkamp that she allegedly brought him just before he killed her. In it, she tells Pistorius that she loves him.

Roux then called forensic expert and former police officer Roger Dixon, who contradicted parts of the prosecution's case.

Dixon said he conducted tests in Pistorius's bedroom that proved it was very dark there at night, supporting Pistorius's statement that he could not see Steenkamp in his bedroom on the night he killed her, and describing some aspects of the police investigation as "unprofessional".

Phelps said Judge Thokozile Masipa could consider the prosecutor's allegation that Pistorius sometimes faked distress in the witness box to wriggle out of a tough question. Otherwise, she said, the athlete's outbursts would not affect the judge, who will deliver a verdict because South Africa does not have a jury system.

"Her recognising that trauma will have absolutely no bearing on her determination as to what his state of mind was when he was firing the shots," Phelps said.

- AP
Read more on:    gerrie nel  |  reeva steenkamp  |  roger dixon  |  thokolize masipa  |  oscar pistorius  |  barry roux  |  pretoria  |  pistorius trial
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
108 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.