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Prosecutor ends grueling Pistorius cross-examination

South African Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius reacts during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on April 15, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ALON SKUY)

PRETORIA: Oscar Pistorius stepped down from the witness box Tuesday after five grueling days of cross-examination that raised serious doubts about his account of killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The relieved and tearful 27-year-old Paralympic gold medalist hugged younger sister Aimee from the stand after tenacious lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court he had “nothing further for this witness.”

For nearly a week, Nel had spent hour after antagonizing hour dragging Pistorius over the coals, accusing him of lying, tailoring evidence and even crying to avoid tough questions.

Nel began his interrogation in shocking fashion, forcing the weeping and disconsolate athlete to look at gruesome images of 29-year-old Steenkamp’s blood-mottled head, which, the prosecutor claimed, “exploded like a watermelon.”

Nel – nicknamed “the bulldog” – demanded Pistorius acknowledge he made more than a mere “mistake,” as the athlete insisted time after time and maintained he shot the model and aspiring actress on Valentine’s Day after thinking she was an intruder.

Concluding his questioning, Nel demanded to know who to blame for Steenkamp’s death if Pistorius would not take responsibility.

“Should we blame Reeva? She never told you she was going to the toilet,” he said.

“Should we blame the government?” he asked facetiously. Pistorius has claimed the police contaminated the crime scene, moving objects around and even stealing some of his watches.

In taking the stand, Pistorius had hoped to show the court he and Steenkamp had been in a happy and loving relationship and her death was a tragic accident.

He even revealed Tuesday the contents of a Valentine’s Day card in which Steenkamp said “I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you.”

But inconsistencies in his account, sometimes evasive and antagonistic answers and his sketchy memory of some details may have weakened his case.

The athlete blamed his legal team for the inconsistencies and appeared to change his defense midway through cross-examination, saying that he pulled the trigger “accidentally” rather than in self-defense.

Nel “managed to elicit conflicting versions from Oscar,” according to David Dadic, a South African lawyer not involved in the case. “He definitely achieved what he set out to achieve.”

During its questioning of Pistorius, the state revealed the most detailed account so far of its case.

It claims the couple argued before the shooting, which is why neighbors heard “blood-curdling screams.”

“They heard that when she escaped from you,” Nel said.

“She was locked in the bathroom, and you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her,” he added, accusing Pistorius of shouting at Steenkamp “get the fuck out of my house.”

“You shot four shots through the door whilst knowing she was behind the door,” Nel said.

Afterward, Pistorius was overcome with guilt, according to the prosecution’s account.

His defense team are now expected to call a slew of expert witnesses to show the charge of murder cannot be true.

First up after Pistorius was forensic expert Roger Dixon, who testified that the athlete’s bedroom would have been completely dark, giving credence to the claim that Pistorius did not see that Steenkamp was not in bed.

The court also heard recordings comparing the sound of gunshots to that of a bat hitting a door. The noises were similar, casting doubt on state witnesses’ testimony that they heard screams, then shots.

Earlier in the day, legal teams for the prosecution and the defense both called for a two-week adjournment beginning Friday.

The proposal would see court resume on May 5.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said she would consider the request and rule on it Wednesday.

Pistorius’ attorney Barry Roux indicated the defense may finish calling its witnesses by mid-May if the postponement is granted.

If the defense concludes its case by mid-May, another postponement is likely before concluding arguments and an eventual ruling.

Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below the knee after he was born without calf bones, gained worldwide fame for running on two carbon fiber blades at the Paralympics and 2012 London Olympics.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Oscar Pistorius stepped down from the witness box Tuesday after five grueling days of cross-examination that raised serious doubts about his account of killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

For nearly a week, Nel had spent hour after antagonizing hour dragging Pistorius over the coals, accusing him of lying, tailoring evidence and even crying to avoid tough questions.

Nel – nicknamed "the bulldog" – demanded Pistorius acknowledge he made more than a mere "mistake," as the athlete insisted time after time and maintained he shot the model and aspiring actress on Valentine's Day after thinking she was an intruder.

Concluding his questioning, Nel demanded to know who to blame for Steenkamp's death if Pistorius would not take responsibility.

Pistorius' attorney Barry Roux indicated the defense may finish calling its witnesses by mid-May if the postponement is granted.


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