Oscar Pistorius trial: Court is adjourned again as the prosecution goes on the assault



There was a time, a few weeks ago, when Pistorius trial devotees spoke of the contrast between its two lead advocates, the fearsome, snarling Barry Roux, and the patient, kind avuncular Gerrie Nel, with his ‘as the court pleases’ catch phrase and his penchant for an ‘early tea’.

It was a juxtaposition suddenly obliterated in an instant, in a carefully planned and perfectly executed blitzkrieg assault. Reeva Steenkamp’s catastrophically wounded head was brought up on to the many screens in court, and stayed there for what felt like an eternity, as Prosecutor Nel demanded the wailing Pistorius uncover his eyes, and look at it, “and take responsibility for what you have done!”

Pistorius didn’t do as he was told. Instead he broke down, and court had to be adjourned for almost an hour.

Shocking though it was, to those in the know it came as no surprise. For one thing, the early part of the trial was the setting out of the state’s case, in which Nel wasn’t cross-examining anyone. But moreso, the reputation of South Africa’s "pit bull" prosecutor extends far beyond the country’s legal circles. Even the waiters and waitresses in the cafes around Pretoria’s legal centre are acutely aware of it. “Everyone thinks he’s this nice, gentle guy,” one told me. “Just you watch. He isn’t .”

Some have questioned whether his ferocious opening, in which he near bellowed at a sobbing Pistorius of how, “Reeva’s head exploded like a melon”, went too far. What did he establish? What were his tactics? To traumatise and rattle the witness before beginning the crucial task of picking apart his story? If so, so traumatised was he that an hour’s break was necessary for him to gather himself.

Should he win this case, it will arguably not be his greatest triumph. He has been well known in South Africa since he ripped apart the corrupt former police commissioner Jackie Selebi in the witness box. In that case, a huge police party had raided Nel’s home in the early hours and arrested and charged him. He was unshaken.

Of course, it is likely that most of those who’ve been shocked and appalled by his somewhat brutal manner have never seen a real life murder trial before. They are not televised in the UK, and in South Africa, this is a first. The state’s position is that Oscar Pistorius killed her intentionally and his story is a fabric of convenient and calculated lies. If it is, it is Nel’s job to rip it apart. If it is robust, of course, he won’t be able to.

Several times on Thursday, Nel brazenly put it to Pistorius: “ You are lying.” The athlete maintains he wasn’t.

Weeks ago police ballistics expert Captain Chris Mangena told the court that a Glock gun that was accidentally discharged in a Johannesburg restaurant, is a type that is “impossible to discharge without pulling the trigger.”

Pistorius was holding the gun at the time, but insists he didn’t pull it. “A miracle,” Nel called it. "I put it to you, there is no other way that gun could have gone off than you pulling the trigger. You are lying.”

Only Pistorius knows for certain what happened in his house that night. “The only other witness is dead. You killed her,” Nel has reminded him many, many times.

The devil will be in the detail, which is currently under examination. Pistorius says he ran on to the balcony and screamed for help, and yet when the police arrived to take photographs, a large tripod fan was blocking the way. It was apparently pitch black, but he saw Reeva’s legs under the duvet as he got up. A plug extension cord that doesn’t seem to stretch far enough to where Pistorius maintains it must have been.

There is no, real, concrete proof for Nel to go on, and he must prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius knew who was behind his toilet door when he fired four bullets through it. It’s a difficult job - perhaps impossible. But there is no one better around to do it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most