Oscar Pistorius trial: Six-and-a-half month trial comes down to just 20 disputed seconds


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The Independent Online

For a trial that long before it even started has seemed to be more about television drama than justice for a dead young woman, it will come as little surprise that its final act is likely to be billed as 9/11 Judgement Day.

It will be on 11 September, almost six and a half months after the trial began and 19 months after Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, that he will finally learn his fate.

Oscar Pistorius trial live

The trial proper ended today, with the athlete’s now world-famous defence counsel Barry Roux claiming his client should never have been tried for murder, but for culpable homicide, and that the undisputed facts of the case support only Oscar Pistorius’s version of events and no one else’s - that he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder, and in startled panic, fearing for his life, shot and killed her through the bathroom door.

The athlete’s uncle Arnold said afterwards that his defence team had “done more than enough” and that “I want him back in the Olympics”.

Mr Pistorius, he argued, was neither liable nor negligent for the killing, which came as a consequence of an “involuntary reflexive response”, as he stood with his gun pointed at the locked toilet cubicle, and heard a noise inside.

“He is trained as an athlete, to react to a sound,” Mr Roux said. “And he’s standing there, with his finger on the trigger.

“If I were to stand behind him [in such a situation], his finger on the trigger, and he is in a fearful state, and I clap my hands, I am very happy to argue that on some occasion, he may pull the trigger.”


The prosecution have sought to tear apart the athlete’s version of events, claiming that he could have attempted to arouse Reeva Steenkamp, who he wrongly imagined to be in the bed, and exited the house to safety. But in arming himself and moving in to the bathroom, there was preplanning involved, and by shooting into the toilet, he knew he would kill whoever was in there, an act of murder, whether he knew it to be Reeva or not, which Pistorius does not accept.

Citing earlier expert testimony, Mr Roux argued: “Because Oscar Pistorius grew up without legs, his fight or flight danger was skewed. It led to an exaggerated fight response.

“You are a little boy without legs, you experience daily, the disability and the effect of this. You experience, daily, that you cannot run away.

“We all know we have three primal responses, freeze, flight or fight. It is well known that with a disability, over time, you get an exaggerated fight response.”

The times of phone calls made by Pistorius and his neighbours validates his version of events, and his alone. It is in Mr Pistorius’s version of events that the shots which killed Ms Steenkamp were fired at 3.12am, and the noises the state claim were the fateful gunshots were in fact the sound of the athlete seeking to break down the toilet door with a cricket bat. The state has offered no explanation for what those earlier sounds were, and according to its version of events, Mr Pistorius would have had to screamed for help, before he had shot Ms Steenkamp.

“Why would he shout Help! Help! Help! while Ms Steenkamp still alive?” Mr Roux asked.

The case, he said, would come down to that short time, a minute or 30 seconds, when he stood outside the bathroom door. There was a case to make, he suggested, that Mr Pistorius could have been negligent in not trying harder to establish Ms Steenkamp’s whereabouts, but in that case “the charge should be culpable homicide, not murder.”

“You have all the facts you have to determine. We have made our submissions. He was not negligent,” he said. “It comes down to those 20 seconds in the accused’s life where he was standing at the entrance to the bathroom.”

Whatever happened in those 20 seconds, Judge Thokozile Masipa has just over a month to decide.