Expert: Pistorius a good State witness

2014-09-09 09:31
Oscar Pistorius is seen during his murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Oscar Pistorius is seen during his murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

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The differing defences for Oscar Pistorius

2014-08-07 09:30

Oscar Pistorius's defence team seems to have put forth three differing defences. William Booth, a criminal law expert, says there may be four different versions to consider.WATCH

Johannesburg - Paralympian Oscar Pistorius let his defence team down when he testified in his murder trial, a lawyer said ahead of the start of his judgment on Thursday.

"The fact that he broke down is understandable, but the problem is that he kept changing his version. I think he was actually a good State witness," advocate with the Bridge Group, Mannie Witz said.

"The defence argued their case very well, but their client let them down because he was not a good witness."

Witz said Pistorius had to stick to the version he gave during his bail application. At the time he said he thought an intruder was behind the door of the toilet in his Pretoria home when he shot through it.

He fired four times, killing his model and law-graduate girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February, 2013.

Steenkamps will be in court

The State said the murder was premeditated. Judge Thokozile Masipa will begin handing down judgment in the North Gauteng High Court on Thursday.

When the trial started on 3 March, Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and to three firearm-related charges.

Senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Kelly Phelps, said the defence did a good job at "pulling together the various strands of evidence into a coherent narrative".

"Reading their heads of argument handed in at the close of the trial I think they have highlighted the purpose behind each witness's testimony very clearly," she said.

"I think there is a good chance on the basis of the heads that they have met that evidential burden and highlighted holes in the State's case."

Steenkamp's uncle, Michael Steenkamp, said the family would be in court on Thursday.

"We will all be there to see what is going to happen. Whichever way it goes, the Lord knows exactly what the answer is," he said on Monday.

"The family is not doing too good in this anxious period and we are just waiting for this period to end. We leave it in the Lord's hands."

Culpable homicide a possible alternative

Witz and Phelps said judgment would run into Friday because of the length of the transcript and the number of charges.

Witz said Masipa would review the evidence of the 37 witnesses and explain why she accepted it or rejected it.

Although Pistorius was only charged with murder, culpable homicide was always a possible alternative, said Phelps.

Witz said there was no definition of premeditated murder in South Africa, but according to case law it would be murder with a degree of planning.

In order to establish that, the court would probably have to find the State's version, that Pistorius and Steenkamp had argued, was true.

In order to convict him of murder the court would have to find that Pistorius acted unlawfully and had the intention to kill.

To convict Pistorius of culpable homicide the court would have to find there was negligence in the killing.

Masipa’s assessors

During the trial, Masipa was aided by two assessors, Themba Mazibuko and Janette Henzen-du Toit.

Phelps said assessors help determine questions of fact and not disputes about the interpretation of legal rules and precedent. They do not have a say in sentencing, but have a prominent role in judgment.

"They can overrule judge Masipa on the determination of fact. In other words, if she thinks the evidence supports one outcome and they both think it supports the other outcome they overrule her. However, on questions of law they have no say."

Neither Phelps nor Witz would be drawn on the sentence Pistorius is likely to get should he be found guilty.

"In my opinion only a very arrogant and unethical lawyer would say what is likely to happen, as that would be stepping into the shoes of the judge, which a lawyer must never do," said Phelps.

Pistorius is also charged with three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act - one of illegal possession of ammunition and two of discharging a firearm in public.

Read more on:    gerrie nel  |  reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  barry roux  |  thokozile masipa  |  crime  |  pistorius trial

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