Prosecution 'attack dog' goes after Pistorius

IT WAS an image that brought gasps of shock from all round the courtroom and led Oscar Pistorius to cover his eyes.

Several times over the past few weeks, horrific images of Reeva Steenkamp's blood-stained body have accidentally flashed up on the screens in court for just milliseconds, as the court computer scrolls from picture to picture. This time it was there on purpose, and it stayed there.

On day 19, halfway through the sixth week of Pistorius's murder trial in Pretoria, the South African athlete's cross-examination finally began, and it could not have been more brutal.

"Have a look," demanded the state prosecutor, Gerrie Nel. "I know you don't want to because you don't want to take responsibility, but it is time you had a look at it. Take responsibility for what you have done, Mr Pistorius."

Those who did not look away saw the face of a beautiful woman, side on, supine on the floor, with what looked like a large red mushroom emerging from her temple. It was the wound left by her boyfriend's hollow-tipped bullet as it burst through a toilet door and killed her. The 27-year-old athelete maintains that he shot the model and law graduate, 29, after mistaking her for an intruder.

"I've taken responsibility," Pistorius cried, his hands still over his eyes, his voice rising to a wail. "But I will not look at a picture where I'm tormented by what I saw and felt that night. As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head. I remember. I don't have to look at a picture. I was there."

Despite the defence's protestations of "ambush", the court was played television footage of Pistorius at a firing range, firing a hollow-tipped bullet at a melon, and laughing as it exploded. "You can see that the melon exploded.

The same thing happened to Reeva's head, didn't it? It exploded. It had the exact same effect, that bullet that entered her head," demanded Nel.
Pistorius did not reply.

"You killed a person, that's what you did, isn't it? You killed Reeva Steenkamp, that's what you did. You killed her.

You shot and killed her. Won't you take responsibility for that?" Pistorius could only reply, several times, that he had "made a mistake".

When asked if he was a "sports hero", he replied: "I don't check any of my media things any more, I don't check any of my media reports. I know that lots of people's opinions of me have changed. I know people in the past did look up to me."

The athlete said he lived his life according to Christian principles: "I'm human, I make many faults, I have sins. I am a Christian because of the reason that I'm a sinner, the Lord said he came down for the people that had sins. I don't always think the things I do are right."

There are a number of comparatively minor matters of concern at this trial that have been much discussed - that Pistorius once fired his gun through an open sunroof, and accidentally discharged another beneath a restaurant table.

But Mr Nel went directly to the central question - the four bullets Pistorius fired through his toilet cubicle door in the early hours of St Valentine's Day last year, when he claims he believed an intruder was hiding behind it, and who was about to come out and attack him.

The athlete insisted he had fired the shots by accident, saying: "I did not purposefully fire the shots through the door. The accident was that I discharged my firearm because I believed an intruder was coming to attack me. The discharge was accidental."

He added, on the verge of tears: "Before thinking, out of fear, I had fired four shots."

He claimed he was afraid for his life, and for what might happen to Ms Steenkamp, and said people "had been tied up on the estate before and assaulted".

If the state is to expose the Pistorius's version of events as lies, as is their intention, the devil will be in the detail.

To that end, the court heard much argument over whether Pistorius had gone out on to his balcony to bring in two fans, as was claimed at his bail application, and whether the fans were plugged in.

Pistorius maintained that he could not remember, but insisted: "My story has not changed. The state's has, many times."

Several terse exchanges occurred in which Mr Nel accused Pistorius of seeking to argue and put forward "well rehearsed answers" rather than answer questions put to him.

"I think about the implications of what I say," Pistorius said. "My life is on the line."

"Reeva doesn't have a life," was Mr Nel's abrupt reply. "So answer the questions I am asking and stop thinking about the implications for you."

Earlier, being led through his evidence by his defence counsel, Pistorius told how he picked Reeva up and carried her downstairs at his home in Pretoria. He put his fingers in her mouth to help her breathe, and her hand on her hip wound to try to stop the bleeding, but she died in his arms before paramedics arrived.

Cross-examination is likely to go on at least until the end of this week, and probably into next. So far the trial has been a clearly traumatic experience for the athlete, in which he has shaken and retched and cried and vomited for long hours, sitting in the dock.

The worst days though, are yet to come.



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