11 April 2014

South Africa: Pistorius Didn't Look at Reeva

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius in court (file photo).

Pretoria — Oscar Pistorius on Friday told his murder trial he never looked at Reeva Steenkamp before he rushed to confront a suspected intruder and fired the shots that killed her.

Pistorius testified that he "whispered" to his girlfriend to ring the police, in the belief that she was still in bed, but kept his gaze away from her to the passage door.

"I said to Reeva get down and phone the police. I didn't wait for a response ... My whole being was fixated on this person I thought was in the bathroom," Pistorius said.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, cross-examining Pistorius for a third day, said it was hard to understand why the paralympian sprinter failed to make sure that his lover was safe.

"You were right next to her in a situation of danger but you did not take the time to talk to her," Nel said incredulously.

"A reasonable person would have looked where Reeva was to see if she was safe ... but you just grabbed a gun."

Pistorius, who risks a life sentence for premeditated murder, maintained that he had simply obeyed his instincts, and believed the right thing to do was to put himself between Steenkamp and harm.

But Nel said Pistorius had invented a version of events that could allow him to claim that he did not know that Steenkamp was inside a locked toilet cubicle in his home when he shot and killed her through the door.

"You had to come up with a version to explain why you got to the bathroom innocently ... your version is a lie."

According to Pistorius, he got out of bed in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year to bring two electric fans closer to the couple's bed and toss a pair of jeans over a hi-fi display light that was bothering him.

In the process he heard a sliding window in his bathroom slam shut and panicked, scrambling for his 9mm pistol.

Nel contends that Pistorius had been emotionally abusive to his girlfriend of four months and killed her after an argument.

On Friday, Nel painstakingly took Pistorius through his movements in the early hours of that morning and paused when the athlete said that as he stood facing the locked door with his firearm, he screamed to Steenkamp to call the police.

It was impossible that Steenkamp did not respond at this point from inside the locked cubicle, Nel told the court.

"She is three metres away from you and she never uttered a word. There is no way you can convince the court she stood there saying nothing."

He rubbished Pistorius's suggestion that Steenkamp would have been too scared to make a sound.

"She wasn't scared of anything except you."

Nel then asked whether Steenkamp screamed while he fired the shots that blasted through the door and hit her in the hip, arm and head.

Pistorius began crying softly and said no, prompting Nel to point out that he was contradicting earlier testimony that, at that point, he could hear nothing because his ears were ringing from the gunshots.

"How can you exclude the fact that she screamed if you could not hear?" Nel said.

"Your version never happened and you have to keep up with an untruth that is why you are making these mistakes. Your mistakes are as convincing as your evidence," he said.

"You thought an intruder came in through your bathroom window, walked into your toilet and closed the door. It is so far-fetched."

Earlier, Nel had argued that the fans had never been moved, because if Pistorius had placed them where he claimed, they would have blocked his path.

Neither could the jeans be on top of a duvet on the floor.

Pistorius has countered that the police moved these objects around before taking the photographs serving as court exhibits, leaving Nel to ask sarcastically whether he was suspecting a conspiracy.

The seasoned prosecutor has set about dismantling the sympathetic picture Pistorius's expensive legal team has sketched of the athlete as a man rendered vulnerable by his disability, and filled with remorse for shooting the woman he loved.

Pistorius testified this week "I was besotted with her" but Nel said transcripts of text messages the couple exchanged showed that he was indifferent to Steenkamp's feelings and never assured her that he loved her.

He argued that Pistorius cared only about himself and frequently cried on the stand not because he felt remorse but found himself in trouble.

When Pistorius became emotional on Friday, Nel asked why.

"Because I lost the person I cared about. I don't know how people don't understand that," Pistorius said, his voice shaking.

The trial continues on Monday.

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