Prosecution rests case in Oscar Pistorius murder trial
The prosecution rested its case Tuesday in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius after 15 days and 21 witnesses, setting the stage for the South African sprinter to take the stand in his own defense as soon as Friday.
Pistorius is likely to be the first defense witness called.
Pistorius, 27, is accused of intentionally murdering his girlfriend, the cover model Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year. She was 29.
He admits shooting and killing her but insists he mistook her for a burglar in his house.
Before the state rested, the court was treated to the bizarre spectacle of two middle-aged men reading out lovey-dovey texts between Pistorius and Steenkamp as the defense tried to show the couple were happy together.
Defense attorney Barry Roux had a police cell phone officer read dozens of chat messages where Steenkamp called Pistorius “baby,” “baba,” “angel” and “rockstar.”
Whenever the officer, Capt. Francois Moller, failed to vocalize the “xxx” in a message, Roux interjected: “Kiss kiss kiss.”
In one exchange, Steenkamp asked Pistorius if she could wear a leopard-print dress to an event. He replied, “Ja I love that and you look amazing in it.”
The two men also read out messages from Steenkamp to Pistorius saying, “you never cramp my style,” calling him “a nice guy” and saying she wanted to cook for him on Valentine’s Day.
She never got the chance. By dinnertime that night, she was dead.
‘I’m scared of you sometimes’
Roux was fighting to counter the impression left by perhaps the most dramatic testimony of the trial, a text message in which Steenkamp said she was sometimes afraid of Pistorius.
“I’m scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me,” she texted him in a long WhatsApp message less than a month before she died, according to Moller.
He downloaded chat messages between the two after the Olympic athlete killed the model.
Roux pointed out that Moller had found only four arguments out of more than 1,700 texts between Steenkamp and Pistorius.
In an affectionate exchange on February 11, three days before her death, Steenkamp messaged Pistorius: “Lots of hugs I hope you have a super blessed day i have said a small prayer for both of us xxx”
He responded: “Thank you so much for being strong angel that message means a lot. I’m going to take your advice…miss you x”
Roux also was allowed by the judge to show CCTV footage of Steenkamp and Pistorius at a shop that shows them acting as a loving couple on February 4.
But after the defense finished with Moller, prosecutor Gerrie Nel pointed out that the only long texts were the ones where Steenkamp expressed her unhappiness.
He also pointed out that there was no record of a response from Pistorius to a long message from Steenkamp ending: “I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”
Casting doubt on the defense
Moller also offered a piece of evidence that could poke a hole in Pistorius’ story of what happened the night he killed Steenkamp.
Pistorius’ phone was online for 309 seconds — just over five minutes — at 1:48 a.m. on February 14. He has said the couple were asleep at the time. He shot her just around 3:15 a.m.
Moller listed the calls that Pistorius made after the killing: first to Johan Stander, who managed the estate he lived on, then to an ambulance and estate security.
Then he called his voice mail service, but that call was likely an accident, Moller said.
Pistorius next received a call from security, before calling his friend Justin Divaris and his brother, Carl, the police officer said.
Two other witnesses testified briefly Tuesday before the state rested its case.
Police warrant officer R.H.A. Maritz testified that there was relatively little crime in Pistorius’ gated community, or “secure estate.”
He also said the police had no record of a crime against Pistorius in the three years before the killing. Pistorius says he has been a victim of burglaries.
The final witness was police Col. Johannes Vermeulen, who was recalled to give more testimony about the toilet door Pistorius says he bashed with a cricket bat after realizing that Steenkamp, not a burglar, was behind it.
The state rested when Vermeulen finished testifying, just after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Roux requested an adjournment until Friday to consult witnesses who were on the state’s list but were not called.
The defense was not allowed to speak to them while they were potential state witnesses.
Judge Thokozile Masipa granted the request and adjourned court until Friday morning when the defense will begin its case.
Steenkamp killed almost instantly
Pistorius admits he killed Steenkamp, firing four shots through a closed door in his house in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Three hit her, with the last one probably killing her almost instantly, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy.
But Pistorius says he thought she was a nighttime intruder in his pitch-black house and believed he was firing in self-defense. He pleaded not guilty to murder.
The trial was scheduled to last until March 20 but will now continue until the middle of May, the South African court hearing the case said Sunday.
The trial, which entered its fourth week on Monday, will continue until April 4, then break for a recess before resuming from April 14 until May 16, the Pretoria court announced in a statement. It said “all parties involved” had agreed to the dates. The trial began March 3.
Pistorius first achieved global fame as an outstanding double amputee sprinter who ran with special prostheses that earned him the nickname “Blade Runner.”
The judge will decide the verdict with the help of two laypeople called assessors. South Africa does not have jury trials.
In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each of two unrelated gun indictments and 15 years for a firearms charge he also faces.
If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence.
The sentence for culpable homicide is at the judge’s discretion.
By Richard Allen Greene, Emily Smith and Laura Smith-Spark
CNN’s Richard Allen Greene reported from Pretoria, and Emily Smith reported from Atlanta, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps contributed to this report.