Pistorius defence rests case, date set for final arguments
Lawyers defending Oscar Pistorius on charges of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp rested their case on Tuesday, heralding the final stages of the high-profile trial that has gripped South Africa for months.
Advocate Barry Roux said the star sprinter’s defence team had called its last witness, allowing the court to set a date of August 7-8 for closing arguments.
The prosecution opted not to reopen its case, an indication of their confidence after a gruelling five-month trial that saw 27-year-old Paralympian weeping, vomiting and at times completely unable to compose himself as he tried to explain how Steenkamp’s death was a tragic accident.
“This matter then is postponed until the 7th of August 2014 at 9:30,” Judge Thokozile Masipa said.
Legal teams from both sides will submit their written arguments to Masipa beforehand — the prosecution on July 30 and the defence on August 4.
The veteran judge warned that the written arguments must not be made public before oral arguments begin at the North Gauteng High Court.
A leak would be a “disservice to justice, and that person who does it is a thief,” Masipa said.
The trial, which began on March 3, has garnered worldwide public attention, including a dedicated 24-hour trial channel and countless newspaper column inches.
Nearly 40 witnesses ranging from a jilted ex-girlfriend of Pistorius to a forensic geologist testified, creating a hefty record with thousands of pages.
Such was the intensity of the public gaze that some witnesses, including Pistorius, refused to testify in front of the cameras, while according to Roux, some refused to testify at all.
During 39 days of court proceedings the world looked on as Pistorius — who rose to international fame when he competed alongside able-bodied runners at the 2012 London Olympics — appeared in the dock, always supported by his well-heeled extended family and comforted by his younger sister Aimee, who sat behind him in the first row of the public gallery.
“This is the night I lost the person I most cared about. I don’t know how people don’t understand that,” said Pistorius, sobbing uncontrollably, on the witness stand.
– ‘Contradiction’ –
Legal analysts watching the case say the runner, once revered for his triumph over disability, did damage to his case by appearing to offer two different defences.
The double-amputee, known as the “Blade Runner” for his sleek carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, testified that he feared someone was coming through the toilet door and that his life was in danger when he unleashed a hail of hollow-point bullets in his upmarket Pretoria home.
He also testified that he fired the shots accidentally as a result of deep-seated anxiety caused by his disability and did not mean to kill anyone.
This conflicting account could hurt his case, said Stephen Tuson, an associate law professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“You can’t have one or the other because it’s a contradiction,” said Tuson.
“How can you say ‘I acted consciously thinking I was shooting an intruder’ and on the other hand say ‘The gun went off, I didn’t pull the trigger’?” he said.
State lawyers showed no mercy, with pit bull prosecutor Gerrie Nel tearing apart his witness bit by bit as he tried to prove that Pistorius knowingly killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, after an argument.
Nel cross-examined Pistorius for five gruelling days, beginning his questioning in shocking fashion by forcing the weeping and disconsolate athlete to look at gruesome images of Steenkamp’s blood-mottled head, which, the prosecutor claimed, “exploded like a watermelon”.
If found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces up to 25 years in jail and an abrupt end to his glittering sports career.
He has also pleaded not guilty to three other charges connected with the reckless discharge of a firearm and the illegal possession of ammunition.
After Tuesday brief proceedings and ruling, Pistorius’s older brother Carl smiled broadly.
Pistorius, carrying a colourful card in his hand from a well-wisher, left the courtroom immediately.