Oscar Pistorius trial: Key questions athlete may face as defence prepares to launch case

The athlete may take the stand to explain inconsistencies in his account of his girlfriend's death

Pretoria

Gerrie Nel, the state prosecutor, stunned the court at Oscar Pistorius's murder trial last week, asking for an adjournment until tomorrow and indicating that he would be concluding his case "early next week". This means that the Paralympian athlete could be on the stand by Tuesday or Wednesday, a month earlier than many had predicted.

There may yet be complications, but South African law states that, while the accused does not have to testify, if he is to do so he must appear first – before the defence calls any witnesses. After three weeks of often enthralling and regularly damning testimony against him, what are the questions that the world's first double amputee Olympic sprinter must now answer?

Does he scream like a woman?

Several of the athlete's neighbours have claimed to have heard "blood-curdling screams" or "woman's screams" or a "woman's screams mixed with a man's". Pistorius's defence counsel claims that, when fearing for his life, the athlete's voice "pitches up" and that "he sounds like a woman". They have even suggested that they have an expert witness who will testify to that end. His ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, does not agree. "I have heard him scream a few times," she has told the court. "It's not true [that he sounds like a woman]. He sounds like a man." So, in order to answer the question of whether he screams like a woman or man, Pistorius may even be made to demonstrate.

How could he not have heard Reeva screaming?

Police ballistics expert Captain Christian Mangena has insisted that the first bullet Pistorius fired struck Ms Steenkamp in the hip, causing her to fall. The shot that killed her was fired at a similar height – around three feet off the floor – and struck her in the head, and that there must have been a discernible time gap between these shots, during which if Pistorius is to be believed, she remained silent. The pathologist who performed Ms Steenkamp's post-mortem examination said it was "highly likely" that the first wound would have caused her to scream in pain, and yet Pistorius says he carried on shooting, still in the belief that she was an intruder.

What damaged the bedroom door?

Crime-scene photographs show significant damage to the bottom of Pistorius's bedroom door, and possibly even a bullet hole. He will have to explain how the damage occurred, and perhaps answer the charge that it is evidence of an argument at the house that night – as witnesses have claimed.

Why was there blood in the bedroom?

Another photograph shows blood spatters above Pistorius's bed. He is not supposed to have returned to the bedroom after discovering Reeva's slumped body in the bathroom and carrying it downstairs. It could be what has been described as an "arterial spatter" – a spot of blood projected some distance, under some pressure. But, as with many elements in this case, it may not be.

How important is the gun holster found on Ms Steenkamp's side of the bed?

Photographs of Pistorius's bedroom showed an empty gun holster on the left hand side of the bed where the athlete claims he imagined Ms Steenkamp was still sleeping when he gathered his gun.

The late night meal?

Pistorius claims he and Reeva were in bed by 10pm. But the post-mortem examination found "vegetable material" in her stomach that suggested she had eaten within two hours of her death, which occurred shortly after 3am. However, it is not an exact science. It is entirely possible that she ate much earlier, but it would make her, in the pathologist's view, a "scientific outlier".

How could he have been wearing his prosthetic legs?

Pistorius says he attached his prosthetic legs before striking through the locked toilet door with a cricket bat. But the police forensics analyst, Lt Col Johannes Vermuelen, has concluded that the marks made by the cricket bat on the door are at a height and in a position that indicate Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

What about his mobile phone?

The state is expected to call four or five more witnesses before concluding its case. But, as things stand, they have still been unable to extract data from Pistorius's phone, which they had hoped might prove the couple had been arguing. The password provided to the prosecution is said not to have worked. Why is that?

Everything's fine?

Pieter Baba, a security guard at the athlete's Silver Woods Estate, says he called Pistorius after receiving calls about the sound of gunshots and screaming. He claims Pistorius told him "everything's fine" but that he could "hear him crying". The defence counsel maintains that Pistorius in fact said everything was "OK" and that he had himself already called security by this point. But everything was quite patently not fine. Why would he claim that?

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