Prosecutor rips at Pistorius’ version of events in murder trial
(CNN) — The chief prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius accused him on Monday of “tailoring” his version of how he killed his girlfriend, as the grueling cross-examination of the track star went into a second week.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has accused the athlete of hiding the truth about the death of Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot last year through a closed toilet door in his luxury home in Pretoria, South Africa.
His questions have sought to undermine Pistorius’ reliability and credibility and to portray the Olympic and Paralympic athlete as someone who was inventing his version of events to suit his story.
Nel, known in South African legal circles for his bulldog-like approach to questioning, has gone through minute detail regarding the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, repeatedly challenging the double amputee over his actions that night.
On Monday, in yet another intense scrutiny of his story, the prosecutor again tried to exhaustively highlight apparent inconsistencies between Pistorius’ bail application and his testimony in court to show he is “tailoring his evidence” to suit the defense case.
“I am going to point out to you how improbable your version is,” Nel told the runner, who sat immobile, staring ahead at the judge as he answered questions.
The prosecution’s argument is that Pistorius shot Steenkamp intentionally after a heated argument. Pistorius does not deny shooting her but insists that he mistook her for an intruder.
“I did not fire at Reeva,” Pistorius told the court, his voice breaking, causing a second brief adjournment in the day’s proceedings so he could gather himself.
Scrutinizing every detail
Nel took Pistorius detail by detail through what happened on the night of Steenkamp’s death — where he moved, how he moved, what he saw — aggressively questioning him about the moments before the shooting.
On one occasion, when the runner corrected Nel, the prosecutor said this showed Pistorius was a “stickler for detail” — and yet on many aspects of the case, he said, the athlete was being vague.
Speaking about the noise he said he thought had been caused by intruders, the athlete described how he started shouting.
Asked what he shouted, Pistorius broke down as he answered: “Get the f**k out of my house. Get the f**k out of my house.”
Nel also said the fact that a pair of Steenkamp’s jeans was lying on the bed showed that when she was shot, she was in the middle of getting dressed in order to leave.
Pistorius denied this, saying the jeans were inside out, meaning she’d taken them off, not that she was putting them on.
The prosecutor also pointed to forensic evidence that showed Steenkamp had eaten within a couple of hours of her death. The athlete says the couple had last eaten together about 7 p.m., around eight hours before Steenkamp was shot. He said there was no fight and they had a quiet evening together.
‘I was screaming’
The prosecutor pressed on why the athlete didn’t give fuller details of his account in his bail statement. Pistorius said then that there was a noise from the bathroom that caused him to think that people had broken into his house. He later explained that it was the bathroom window sliding across and slamming against the frame.
The athlete said on Monday that he was on medication and traumatized while in a jail cell at the time of his bail statement.
Nel also said it was improbable that, according to Pistorius’ story, Steenkamp did not ask him why he was getting out of bed in the middle of the night to retrieve fans from the edge of the balcony.
He repeatedly asked the athlete why he fired, and if he did so intentionally.
“No, I did not,” Pistorius said. “I fired because I got a fright.”
Nel has openly called the athlete’s version “a lie,” contending Pistorius knew exactly what he was doing when he fired his gun.
“I blame myself for taking Reeva’s life,” Pistorius said.
Describing what happened after the shots, Pistorius’ high-pitched voice wobbled. He said he went to the bed and realized Steenkamp was not there, and then felt the curtains to see if she was behind them.
“Then I was panicking, realizing she wasn’t answering,” the runner said. “I was screaming, I was screaming out for her.”
Nel said his next line of questioning would deal with the toilet. He asked to continue on Tuesday morning and the trial was adjourned for the day.
The prosecutor has repeatedly asked the runner why he was getting “emotional” as Nel’s questioning has drawn tears.
“Is it about what happened, or the questions and your frustration with answering them?” Nel said, asking Pistorius if he was using his emotions as an escape. Pistorius said he was not.
“It’s emotional memories for me,” the runner replied.
Pistorius, 27, has denied he acted selfishly toward Steenkamp, who was 29 when she died.
In a bid to paint their relationship as rocky, Nel has ripped apart message exchanges between the couple.
Nel also sought to paint Pistorius as selfish and demanded to know why the athlete did not respond to his girlfriend’s declaration of love. But Pistorius said he preferred to talk to his girlfriend over the phone rather than messaging. He acknowledged he never got a chance to tell her that he loved her.
“Because it was all about Mr. Pistorius,” Nel said.
The trial has gripped South Africa, where Pistorius is considered a symbol of triumph over physical adversity. His disabled lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, but he went on to achieve global fame as the “Blade Runner,” winning numerous Paralympic gold medals on the steel blades fitted to his prostheses.
Only those in the courtroom can see Pistorius because he has chosen not to testify on camera. His testimony can be heard on an audio feed.
Steenkamp’s mother, June Steenkamp, has been in court throughout his testimony.
The trial is scheduled to continue until the middle of May.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide the verdict in collaboration with two experts called assessors. South Africa does not have jury trials.
By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
CNN’s Emily Smith, Laura Smith-Spark and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.