Oscar Pistorius trial: Athlete 'cannot escape a verdict of murder'

Prosecution launches scathing attack against the athlete describing him as an 'appalling and deceitful witness' as it calls for his testimony to be rejected

It took almost until the very last leg of this marathon trial for the athletics metaphors to emerge.

Mr Pistorius, an “appalling witness”, has “dropped the baton of truth”, his prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, as he finally delivered his closing argument, more than five months after the supposedly three to six week trial began.

Oscar Pistorius trial live

“He has dropped the baton. He cannot complete the race. He must accept he is disqualified.”

In a blistering but precise attack on Oscar Pistorius’s version of events, which Mr Nel has already widely discredited during cross-examination many months ago, he sought to show firstly how Mr Pistorius must have known it was Reeva Steenkamp behind the toilet door, not an intruder, but more importantly that even if he didn’t, it does not matter. It is murder in any case.

Mr Nel admitted that the case against the world’s most famous Paralympian is circumstantial, “it is feathers”, but that there are enough of them to tip the scales of justice.

Mr Pistorius, who has until now retched, sobbed and vomited his way through this lengthy trial, sat in the dock after a month’s absence, watched for the first time by his own father Henke and Reeva Steenkamp’s father Barry, and frequently yawned, as he was described as a “vague and appalling witness” whose version of events were “devoid of any truth.”

The athlete’s defence has seemed to change several times since the trial began, to one of putative self-defence, to involuntary action, to some sort of psychiatric difficulty. But the last of these has been shown to be untrue and, Nel argued, neither of the previous two can be.

Pistorius has at turns claimed that he heard a noise in the bathroom armed himself and “went to confront it” and then that “before I knew I had fired four shots [at the locked toilet door].” That only at the point that would save him in the eyes of the law, does Mr Pistorius’s behaviour suddenly switch from being pre-planned, to involuntary.

 

There, Nel said, are two arguments, “that can never be reconciled. The accused’s mosaic is reduced to nothing more than a smudged canvas.”

The circumstantial matters, the time of Ms Steenkamp’s last meal, the noises heard by the neighbours, the possible similarity between gunshot noises and the sound of Pistorius using a cricket bat to break down the door, and above all whether his neighbours could have mistaken  his screams for the screams of a woman, were again laid bare.

But crucially, Mr Nel asked why, when the athlete’s defence claimed they would “bring an expert who will testify that when Mr Pistorius screams it sounds like a woman,” that witness, in the end, never appeared.

Mr Nel called for Pistorius’s entire version of events to be rejected, but crucially, even the judge chooses to believe that Mr Pistorius honestly believed there to be an intruder, his actions were so reckless they are murder all the same.

“Even in the event of the court accepting the accused version, he cannot escape a verdict of murder,” Mr Nel said.

“If you fire four shots into a small cubicle with black talon ammunition you see the possibility that you will kill somebody.”

The court, he said must ask itself what a reasonable man would do in such a situation, and also consider Mr Pistorius’s profound disability.

“A reasonable man?” he said. “We have the accused, armed and ready. That is the reasonable man. Armed and ready to fire. DIsabled or not, the fact that he is armed is the fact the court should take in to account. He has his firearm pointed towards the toilet door.

“A reasonable man would not fire. The court will not accept that that person would not fire without cause. There was no cause. No one came out of the door.”

In a surprise extension to the usual court hours, Mr Pistorius’s defence counsel Barry Roux was forced to begin his own closing arguments for just thirty minutes before matters concluded, but himself landed significant blows on the state’s version of events.

Friday’s evidence is likely to turn on the timeline of events in the minutes leading up to and after Ms Steenkamp’s fatal shooting. When phone calls were made, when noises were heard, what those noises were, and the extent of police moving objects around in Mr Pistorius’s house, discrediting and possibly creating, crucial parts of the state’s version of events.

Earlier in the case, Mr Nel has relied heavily on the duvet having been flung on top of Ms Steenkamp’s jeans, which were on the floor of Mr Pistorius’s as she was preparing to leave after a protracted argument. Yet Mr Nel has also argued that, "Nobody went to bed in that house. Nobody was sleeping. The alarm wasn’t activated. And that light was on."

Mr Nel has also offered no convincing explanation for the gunshot sounds that woke Pistorius’s neighbours, given that if those gunshots killed Ms Steenkamp, the “blood curdling woman’s screams” that followed them are an impossibility.

If convicted of murder Mr Pistorius is likely to face a life sentence, with a mandatory minimum term of 25 years. A date for a verdict will be given on Friday, which Mr Pistorius may be allowed to appeal.

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