Crucial phase for defence as Oscar Pistorius trial resumes

2014-05-05 08:16

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Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial enters a critical phase today as his defence team attempts to recover from a faltering start and reinforce the Paralympian’s claim that he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by mistake because he was overwhelmed by a long-held fear of violent crime.

Pistorius’ mindset when he stood on his stumps in a bathroom and pulled the trigger on his 9mm pistol in the early hours of 14 February 2013 remains the crux of the trial that has captured worldwide attention and is about to start its seventh week of globally televised proceedings.

It was initially scheduled to run for three weeks.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will analyse thousands of pages of testimony before she reaches a verdict, but ultimately must ponder the pivotal question: Did Pistorius fire his gun with the intention to kill or out of a misplaced belief that his life was in danger from a perceived intruder?

Masipa will decide, with the help of two assessors, if Pistorius’ overall account is believable and whether the apparent inconsistencies in his testimony count against him or are unimportant in the bigger picture.

If Pistorius’ defence, which will resume today as witnesses are called after a two-week trial recess, can show that his story of a tragic error is a reasonable explanation, even the double-amputee runner’s shaky testimony would be rendered irrelevant and the judge should acquit him of murder, legal experts say.

While testifying, Pistorius sometimes contradicted earlier testimony and at other times, said he did not remember details.

“The test doesn’t end there,” former state prosecutor Marius du Toit said of Pistorius’s testimony. “It’s not over. They [the defence] can still show there is another plausible scenario.”

Du Toit has over 20 years’ experience in SA’s criminal justice system and is following the trial closely. He said it must be shown that Pistorius had the “sole intention” to kill Steenkamp to be convicted of murder.

Pistorius doesn’t dispute that he shot Steenkamp (29) through a toilet door.

He claims the killing was accidental and that he fired four times in quick succession without thinking and while terrified, believing that an intruder had climbed up a ladder and through a bathroom window of his Pretoria villa in the predawn hours and was about to come out of the cubicle and attack him.

Prosecutors charge that the story is an intricate lie designed to cover up a murder.

They say the couple fought, Steenkamp fled to the toilet screaming and Pistorius followed her and shot her through the wooden door while they were arguing.

She was hit in the hip, arm and head.

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