Oscar Pistorius: Athlete accused of lies and distortion

Oscar Pistorius trial day 19 - in 60 seconds

Oscar Pistorius has faced a second day of intense cross-examination at his trial in which he was accused of being selfish, reckless and a liar.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel focused on the athlete's character, enthusiasm for firearms and version of events before he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The South African sprinter appeared calmer than he had during his previous three days on the witness stand.

The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star denies murder.

He again insisted in court in Pretoria on Thursday that the shooting on Valentine's Day last year was a terrible accident after he mistook her for a burglar.

Oscar Pistorius was asked about angry text messages exchanged with Reeva Steenkamp, Andrew Harding reports

Mr Pistorius said he had not intended to pull the trigger, even to fire at an intruder, and could not explain why he fired four shots through a toilet cubicle door.

"I didn't have time to think about it," he said in a trembling voice.

'Rough time'

Mr Nel, known as the "bull terrier" in South Africa for his fierce questioning, also suggested Mr Pistorius was only concerned about himself during the couple's three-month relationship.

"It was all about you, Mr Pistorius," he said, repeatedly.

He tried to give the impression that the Paralympic athlete was self-centred, contemptuous of his girlfriend and lacking responsibility, the BBC's Karin Giannone reports from Pretoria.

Mr Nel suggested that Mr Pistorius should have apologised to Ms Steenkamp's family in private, rather than making a "spectacle" by doing it in court on Monday.

The athlete replied that he had not had the opportunity and had been unable to find the correct words. "I'm terribly sorry that I took the life of their daughter," he said.

In an interview with the UK's Daily Mirror newspaper, her mother, June, said the apology "left me unmoved. I knew it was coming".

The prosecution is painting an unflattering picture of Oscar Pistorius - a picture of a self-obsessed man who always wanted others to take the blame for his actions.

They are using the text-message exchange where the couple were arguing to claim that their relationship was "all about Oscar".

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said that even when the athlete had apologised, he nevertheless blamed Reeva Steenkamp for their fights.

And he took it one step further, saying that Mr Pistorius had often blamed other people for his actions - but at no time during his testimony had he taken responsibility for what he did.

In court, Mrs Steenkamp shook her head as Mr Pistorius was taken through several Whatsapp messages which Ms Steenkamp had sent to the athlete.

In one, she wrote: "You have picked on me incessantly since we got back from Cape Town."

Asked to comment, Mr Pistorius said: "I don't feel like I picked on her incessantly - maybe we were having a rough time in our relationship."

Later, Mr Nel set out what the state believes happened in the early hours of 14 February 2013 in Mr Pistorius' Pretoria home.

He said they would show that the two had an argument in the bedroom, and Ms Steenkamp ran screaming into the toilet.

The chief prosecutor showed a police photograph of the bedroom, taken three hours after the shooting, which he said contradicted Mr Pistorius' account of where various items - including electric cooling fans and a duvet - had been placed at the time of the shooting.

"Your version is a lie," Mr Nel said - something the defendant denied.

'Miracle'

In earlier cross-examination, Mr Pistorius also denied ever shouting or screaming at Ms Steenkamp, or a previous girlfriend, Sam Taylor, as she had testified earlier in the trial.

Gerrie Nel: Fierce prosecutor

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel
  • One of South Africa's most respected legal minds
  • Known for his no-nonsense attitude inside the courtroom
  • More than 30 years' experience
  • No stranger to high-profile cases - prosecuted former police boss Jackie Selebi on corruption charges, calling him an "arrogant liar" during cross-examination
  • Widely praised for his meticulous attention to detail

Referring to an incident when a gun was fired in a restaurant, he said he had not been aware the gun was loaded but insisted he had not pulled the trigger.

Mr Nel said a gun firing itself would be a "miracle", and accused Mr Pistorius of lying and not taking responsibility for his actions.

Mr Pistorius did admit keeping ammunition in his bedside table, rather than in a safe, saying he was usually armed for his own safety.

The double amputee faces life imprisonment if convicted of murdering the 29-year-old model, reality TV celebrity and law graduate.

If he is acquitted of murder, South African law stipulates that the court must consider the separate, lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, for which he could receive between six and 15 years in prison.

Mr Pistorius also faces charges of illegally firing a gun in public and of illegally possessing ammunition, both of which he denies.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

INTERACTIVE
  • ×

  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

    ×

    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

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