The defense for Oscar Pistorius used the final day of closing arguments Friday to painstakingly go through a timeline of the night he killed his girlfriend, revisiting phone records and witness testimony to back his version of events.
The second and last day of closing arguments caps months of proceedings that have seen the Olympic star gag, vomit and break down in heaving sobs.
Pistorius shot his girlfriend, model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year.
The state has charged Pistorius, 27, with premeditated murder in the death of Steenkamp, 29. But the athlete contends he mistook her for an intruder when he fired four fatal shots through a locked bathroom door.
Defense attorney Barry Roux alleged the prosecution made mistakes and handled evidence poorly. He laid out details of the noises from that night: the gunshots, screams and pounding — the last from Pistorius’ using a cricket bat to break down the door.
Witness testimony shows an anxious man screamed for help three times, which supports Pistorius’ case, according to Roux.
The defense reminded the court that Pistorius, who uses prostheses to walk after his lower legs were amputated as a child, suffers from anxiety. Roux compared the Olympian’s situation to that of an abuse victim who suddenly snaps after undergoing suffering for a while.
In an attempt to discredit the prosecution’s version of events, Roux also accused investigators of tampering with the crime scene by moving items around, including a fan and Steenkamp’s jeans. In police pictures, the items appeared in different spots from where the Olympian said they’d been, Roux said.
He pointed out that the burden of proof is on the state in this case, and accused the state of avoiding certain important facts and ignoring other reasonable scenarios.
Roux pointed out that the burden of proof is on the state in this case, and accused the state of avoiding certain important facts and ignoring other reasonable scenarios.
Making his final arguments, prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused the Olympian’s attorneys of presenting a defense that did not jibe with the facts.
Prosecution: Pistorius lied
Nel, renowned for his bulldog tenacity in questioning, maintained that Pistorius was dishonest and his testimony was “devoid of any truth.”
Using a metaphor reflecting Pistorius’ career on the track, Nel said the athlete had “dropped the baton of truth.”
“Without the baton of truth, you cannot complete the race,” he said.
Nel said the Olympian “displayed a blatant disregard for the law and the lives of others.”
In Pistorius’ version of events, the prosecutor said, the athlete said he went to the bathroom door and fired with the intention to kill or hit, believing there was someone behind it.
Before he fired, he was armed with a high-powered weapon and was “in charge” of the situation, Nel said.
He said Pistorius should not go free regardless of whether the court believes he thought there was an intruder behind the door.
Calling the Olympic sprinter an “appalling” witness, Nel said the evidence from the bullet holes in the bathroom door suggests Pistorius had time to think, and that he looked down the gun sight as he fired.
But Roux referenced Nel’s metaphors in disputing the accusations.
“There’s no crumbling of the mosaic [Nel's metaphor for the defense's circumstantial evidence] or dropping of the baton,” he said.
The closing arguments lower the curtain on a courtroom drama that, since March, has seen the Olympic sprinter weep and retch in the courtroom as disturbing evidence was presented.
Proceedings were delayed while Pistorius underwent a court-ordered, monthlong psychiatric evaluation.
He was depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and is a suicide risk, the doctors concluded. But he did not appear to have a history of abnormal aggression or psychopathic tendencies linked to “rage-type murders in intimate relations.”
Nicknamed “Blade Runner” for the bladelike lower-leg prostheses he wears on the track, Pistorius has always admitted that he killed Steenkamp. The key question in his trial is that of intent.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide his fate at a later date, which she will announce on Friday.
There are no jury trials in South Africa. Masipa is assisted by two lay advisers — called assessors — in her decision.
The judge’s options on verdict and sentencing range from acquittal and freedom to conviction of premeditated murder and life in prison.
It could take weeks for Masipa and the assessors to consider the evidence and testimony presented in court, which may cover up to 4,000 pages of court transcripts.
If the judge believes beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius knew he was shooting at Steenkamp, then she will find him guilty of murder. If she rules it was premeditated, Pistorius would face a life sentence. In South Africa, he would be required to serve at least 25 years. If it is not premeditated, he would serve a minimum of 15 years.
If Masipa sees any reasonable doubt that Pistorius knew Steenkamp was behind the bathroom door, she won’t convict him of murder.
Still, if she determines that Pistorius was unreasonable in his actions that led to Steenkamp’s killing, she would find him guilty of culpable homicide. In that case, she would have to decide upon a sentence herself.
If she believes there is a reasonable chance that Pistorius made a mistake and responded in a reasonable fashion, she will find him not guilty, which means the athlete could go free.