PRETORIA, South Africa April 11, 2014
By Dan Good And Liezl Thom
The prosecutor today brushed aside Oscar Pistorius’ claim that he feared an intruder was in his house when he fired through a bathroom door and killed his girlfriend. “You shot at her knowing that she was behind that door,” the prosecutor told the weeping defendant.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel launched a blistering assault on Pistorius’ credibility, bluntly calling him a liar. “You had to come up with a version to explain why you got to the bathroom innocently … your version is a lie,” Nel charged.
Pistorius, in sob-wracked testimony, has claimed that he killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by accident when he heard a noise in his bathroom before dawn on Valentine’s Day 2013, and fired at the bathroom door out of fear because he thought a burglar was about to come out.
Oscar Pistorius, cradles his head in his hands as he listens to ballistic evidence being given in the court during his murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, March 19, 2014.
The prosecution claims Pistorius shot Steenkamp after a loud argument and that Steenkamp screamed after the first of four shots were fired.
“You knew that Reeva was behind the door and you shot at her. That is the only thing that makes sense. You shot at her knowing that she was behind that door,” Nel insisted.
Judge Thokozile Masipa reprimanded Nel, nicknamed the Bull Terrier, for his aggressive tactics.
“Watch your language Mr. Nel,” Masipa said. “You don’t call the witness a liar, not while he is in the witness box.”
A complaint was later lodged with the South African Human Rights Commission over the manner in which Nel conducted his cross-examination of Pistorius, with specific reference to the prosecutor calling him a liar.
Nel scoffed at Pistorius’ claim that Steenkamp never said anything while Pistorius got his gun, allegedly asked her to call police and when Pistorius allegedly screamed at the supposed intruder to get out of his house.
“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,” Nel said.
He rejected Pistorius’ suggestion that Steenkamp would have been too scared to make a sound.
“She wasn’t scared of anything except you,” the prosecutor said.
As Pistorius’ voice started wavering, Nel hammered away relentlessly, asking whether Steenkamp screamed when he fired the shots that blasted through the door and hit her in the hip, arm and head. A crying Pistorius spoke softly as he replied no. Nel said that the answer contradicted his earlier testimony when Pistorius said he couldn’t hear anything 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,” he said.
Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner for the prosthetics he uses in races, faces 25 years in prison if he is convicted of Steenkamp’s murder.
Earlier in the day Nel asked Pistorius why he was getting emotional and the defendant exclaimed in a shaky voice, “Because I lost the person I cared about. I don’t know how people don’t understand that.”
During the day, Nel tried to poke holes in Pistorius’ version of exactly what happened that night, picking away at details.
Pistorius admitted under questioning that he had to deactivate his home security alarm following the shooting in order to let somebody in, something Pistorius hadn’t previously discussed. The athlete then backtracked, saying he didn’t remember whether he deactivated the alarm, but because it didn’t go off, he must have deactivated it.
“Why are you tailoring the evidence?” Nel asked.
“I made a mistake,” Pistorius said. “I’m tired.”
The judge asked Pistorius whether his weariness would affect his credibility on the stand.
“No,” Pistorius said.
At the beginning of today’s proceedings, Nel told the court that he received a note from June Steenkamp, the victim’s mother, clarifying for the court that Pistorius had requested a meeting with Steenkamp’s family, but they declined because they were not ready to do so. During court on Thursday, Nel ridiculed Pistorius for starting his defense by apologizing to the family and suggesting that if he was sincere he would have sought a meeting with the Steenkamp family instead.
Previously, Nel had accused Pistorius of using his court apology to the family for his own gain — and criticizing him for not reaching out to Steenkamp’s family sooner.