The prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, insisted on Friday that the world-famous athlete fatally shot his girlfriend through a toilet door as they were talking and that his version of that night's events do not add up.
- 5 key questions about the Pistorius trial as defence begins
- Pistorius 'adapting' his story as trial proceeds, prosecutor says
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the "only reasonable explanation" for what happened in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year was that Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet door from around three metres away as they argued.
"She was standing behind the toilet door talking to you when you shot her," Nel put to Pistorius right at the end of the first week of the athlete's testimony.
"That's not true," replied Pistorius, one of numerous denials he issued to accusations that he was a liar through three days of rigorous cross-examination by the dogged prosecutor. The trial is set to resume on Monday morning.
Pistorius has consistently said he killed Steenkamp by accident after mistaking her for an intruder. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.
"There’s a secondary charge that he’s guilty of culpable homicide. That he shot Reeva Steenkamp, but he didn’t intend to kill her, he thought he was acting in defence, in his own self defence," London, U.K.-based attorney Michael McParland told CBC News.
"So his intention when he fired that gun, when he got out of bed and put the gun in his hand, is crucial to this case.".
Nel led the Paralympic champion through his own account of what happened in the moments before he shot Steenkamp, arguing at each stage that the account was improbable and questioning why Pistorius did not simply leave the room with her.
Pistorius said he heard a noise in the bathroom and moved down a passageway on his stumps toward the bathroom with his pistol while screaming to his girlfriend to get down from the bed and call the police. Pistorius said he then heard a noise in the toilet that he perceived to be the sound of wood on wood, which he said made him think someone was opening the toilet door to attack him.
Then, Pistorius said, he opened fire.
Nel cited the trajectory of the three bullets that hit the model in the hip, arm and head and which showed she was standing behind the door and facing it, and not backing away as she would have been if she thought there was an intruder in the house, Nel said.
- INTERACTIVE | The state vs. Pistorius: how the accounts differ
- ANALYSIS | Oscar Pistorius under the microscope
Nel also focused on the fact that Pistorius has insisted that he yelled loudly at Steenkamp multiple times to call the police, but that she never responded to his screams. Nel said that it is very "improbable" that she would not answer, despite being only metres away.
"There is no way you can convince this court that she stood there, saying nothing. Why would she do that?" Nel asked. "She would have responded."
Pistorius responded that Steenkamp had been through a burglary before, and that she was likely too frightened to answer his calls.
Nel answered: "She wasn't scared of an intruder. She was scared of you."
Pistorius said he wanted to put himself between the bathroom and the bed, where he said he thought Steenkamp was.
"I agree with Mr. Nel she would have been terrified," Pistorius said, "but I don't think she would have shouted out ... In her mind I must have been retreating toward the bathroom." Nel responded that gave Steenkamp even more reason to talk to Pistorius, who was metres away.
Nel pushed Pistorius to admit that he "invented" discussions between himself and Steenkamp in the hour before her death in preparation for his trial. Evidence of this, Nel says, can be found in the fact that Pistorius did not mention these alleged brief conversations in his application for bail.
Shortly before the day's proceedings were adjourned, Pistorius said while holding back tears, "Many times I'm haunted by what she must have thought in the last moments that she lived."
The response came after Nel suggested Pistorius never really loved Steenkamp, and that he has failed to consider what that night was like for her.
"The stress put on him may seem theatrical, or it may be very real. He may be a very vulnerable person, who is now suffering effectively a visible disintegration in front of the eyes of the world. Or he may be a very angry narcissist — as the prosecution will allege — who’s now feeling exceptionally sorry for himself," said McParland to CBC News.
A history of lying?
Nel also argued that Pistorius was prepared to lie about an incident as far back as five years ago when he claims someone shot at him from another car on a highway to build a backstory that he had a long-held fear of being attacked.
Pistorius said he saw a "muzzle flash" and heard "a banging noise" as a black Mercedes drove past him in the incident, which he said was in 2008 or 2009. Pistorius said he slowed down turned off the highway and eventually went to a restaurant car park and called someone to come and pick him up. Nel asked Pistorius who he called and Pistorius replied he couldn't remember.
"You cannot not remember," Nel said. It was "such a traumatic incident," the prosecutor said. Nel said Pistorius's failing to remember who he called was because "it never happened."
"It's the one night that someone almost shot you, am I right?" Nel said. Pistorius said it was.
"If I could remember who I phoned I would gladly give you their name," Pistorius said.
Worried about an intruder?
The prosecutor also challenged the athlete's statements that he was worried about crime before he fatally shot Steenkamp through a closed toilet door in his home.
Nel examined the details of the alarm system at Pistorius's house, questioning why the athlete would believe an intruder had broken into his home when he had extensive security measures, including interior and exterior sensors.
Pistorius said he activated the sensors on the home alarm system before going to sleep on the night he killed Steenkamp, but feared that building contractors doing work on his house may have moved some of the security beacons.
The prosecutor said Pistorius had not mentioned immediately after the shooting that he had fears that building contractors had removed some of the security beacons, specifically near the bathroom window where he allegedly thought an intruder may have gained access on the night he killed Steenkamp.
Querying why Pistorius had not mentioned those fears earlier, Nel said Pistorius was trying to build a story to explain his fears of an intruder and therefore a mistaken shooting.
"This is the biggest example of you tailoring your evidence," Nel said. Pistorius denied he was fabricating a story.
Pistorius also said he was struggling to give clear testimony because he was tired, prompting the judge to ask him if he was too tired to proceed with a tough cross-examination from the chief prosecutor.
Pistorius was responding to a question from Nel, who pointed to a lack of clarity in the double-amputee runner's testimony about whether he turned off the alarm inside his home on the night of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius said he "must have" turned off the alarm, which Nel described as a vague response.
The prosecutor then asked Pistorius, who acknowledged making a mistake in his testimony, if he needed time before continuing with his testimony.
"I don't need time," the Olympic athlete said. "I am tired. It's not going to change."
Nel responded: "You're trying to cover up for lies and I'm not convinced."
Judge Thokozile Masipa interjected, asking Pistorius if he was too tired to proceed. She said that it wasn't fair to the court if he was not alert during the proceedings.
Pistorius replied that he was able to go on.