Updates from Thursday, July 3
The trial of Oscar Pistorius will resume on Monday, July 7, after a day in which prosecutor Gerrie Nel entered into a spiky exchange with the person who is expected to be the defence's last witness.
Pistorius maintains he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by accident on Valentine's Day 2013, but the prosecution is seeking to prove premeditated murder.
You can follow the trial live right here (subject to your territory):
Professor Wayne Derman—South Africa's paralympian team doctor—returned to the witness box on Thursday, entering into a tetchy dialogue with Nel over the thought process—or lack thereof—that Pistorius underwent before firing his weapon.
Derman began the day under the lead of the defence team, explaining why Pistorius would be more likely to confront—rather than evade—danger due to the anxiety caused by his disability.
He claimed Pistorius would have reacted without thinking to the threat of a potential intruder, which supports the accused's own version of events. However, BBC News' Andrew Harding predicted prosecutor Nel would circle back to that claim:
Nel won't let that go by - remember that #OscarPistorius admitted to thinking about danger of ricochet if he fired into shower.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
This is important evidence. We're back to the heart of this trial - what was going through #OscarPistorius mind when he fired those shots?— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
The witness produced a lengthy list of reasons for why Pistorius reacted the way he did on the night in question, firing four times at an unknown target.
He even suggested Pistorius—upon hearing a noise inside the toilet cubicle—reacted automatically with fire because he is trained in athletics to react to the sound of the gun. EyeWitness News' Barry Bateman noted:
#OscarTrial Derman says the athlete’s training to react quickly to the start gun, conditions the brain to react to auditory stimuli. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
A section of the state psychologist report was read by the defence, highlighting that Pistorius feels in great danger without his prosthetic legs. Derman concluded that his natural reaction—a "startle" response—was the cause for Steenkamp's death:
Psychologist report shows #OscarPistorius worried about "damaged" stumps and sought gun for protection. "I am stuffed without my legs on."— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
Derman returns to Reeva Steenkamp's death, saying #OscarPistorius "exaggerated fight response" was responsible for "this horrific tragedy."— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
Nel then got his chance to quiz the witness, instantly suggesting Derman's evidence comes laced with bias because Pistorius is his patient of six years:
#OscarTrial Derman: dismisses the inference of bias. “I would not risk my reputation.” I’m here to give the truth. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
After a thorny exchange between the pair over the legitimacy of Derman's evidence, Nel then drove rapidly toward the key issue: Derman's claim that "the thinking brain would stop" in the moments before Pistorius shot Steenkamp, instead engaging the "startle" response.
Derman claimed the first "startle" response came when Pistorius—still in the bedroom at this point—froze upon hearing the bathroom window open. Nel queried whether it was still a "startle" response to grab his gun:
#OscarTrial Nel: so the next response after that he was then in control? Derman: his next response was to get his gun. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel: but he can’t now freeze and then fight? BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel: he has to think - where is my gun. But there’s more, it’s not in the usual place - he’s sleeping on the left. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
Harding felt Derman was being evasive over how long a "startle" response can last:
Nel asks if one startle, rather than 2 or 3, would be enough to sustain #OscarPistorius fight or flight response up to moment of shootings.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
It's pretty easy stuff Nel is asking - is there a chance #OscarPistorius fired gun without being in "fight mode." Derman ducks it.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
Nel has found an apparent gap in Derman's evidence, and he's putting a great big crow bar in there to try to widen it. #OscarPistorius— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
Following an adjournment for lunch, Nel and Derman locked horns once again, entering a dispute over whether Pistorius ran down the corridor between bedroom and bathroom.
Derman eventually demonstrated his version visually, but his sharp response said everything for the fractious relationship with Nel:
#OscarTrial Derman asks Nel, “are you happy now?” Nel: those sarcastic questions are not doing your credibility any good. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
Advancing through the chain of events that led to Pistorius firing his gun, Derman explained that the sound of the toilet door closing was the second of three "startles."
#OscarTrial Nel: so what did that second startle cause him to do? Derman: my memory is a bit fuzzy on this… he looked at open window/door.— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
Derman suggests he's reached the limits of his expertise. Nel won't let him off the hook, demanding more analysis of the 2nd "startle..."— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 3, 2014
With little progress made, focus turned to the third "startle," the sound of the magazine rack moving from inside the toilet cubicle. Pistorius has previously claimed he mistook this noise for the cubicle door being opened.
Nel pushed Derman to explain why Pistorius fired his gun at that moment. It is a key question because Pistorius insists there was no thought process—he just fired automatically:
#OscarTrial Derman can’t answer Nel’s question - did the accused fire at the sound. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
#OscarTrial but when pushed - Derman says Pistorius fired at the sound. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 3, 2014
Nel then requested an adjournment until Monday, revealing that he will call one of the authors of the psychiatric report. The request was granted.
Updates from Wednesday, July 2
Oscar Pistorius' manager, Peet van Zyl, faced a stiff—albeit brief—cross-examination from prosecuting lawyer Gerrie Nel on Wednesday as the state continued its attempt to prove the accused guilty of premeditated murder.
Pistorius shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead in his own home on Valentine's Day 2013, but claims he mistook her for an intruder.
Within five minutes of resumption on Wednesday, Nel had led Van Zyl into a trap. The witness had claimed Steenkamp was the first girlfriend for whom Pistorius had arranged a trip, but Nel produced evidence to the contrary.
Nel produced an email in which Pistorius provided passport details of ex Samantha Taylor to Van Zyl, stating: "We are sorting s--t out." BBC News' Andrew Harding and EyeWitness News' Barry Bateman provide the details:
Nel gets Zyl to say he doesn't remember arranging for #OscarPistorius ex girlfriend Taylor to go on trip then produces contradicting email— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 2, 2014
Nel seeking to show that Zyl has been evasive on the stand - denying he knew about nature of #OscarPistorius relationship with Taylor.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 2, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel reads Oscar’s email to Sam: “When I invited you I was so excited… I asked Peet to do everything to find you ticket…” BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 2, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel: there are regular references to this invitation to London. Why didn’t you know about that? BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 2, 2014
That set the tone for Nel's line of questioning, which attempted to prove Van Zyl knew more about Pistorius' relationships than he cared to let on.
Nel wanted Van Zyl to open up on the potentially stormy relationship between Taylor and Pistorius, but the witness proved frustrating:
Nel continues to suggest Zyl is being a little too forgetful on the witness stand. Zyl shrugs... "I cannot recall." #OscarPistorius— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 2, 2014
Van Zyl was then excused, prompting defence lawyer Barry Roux to turn to Pistorius' mental evaluation report.
Roux's aim was to show the report could be interpreted in several ways, either for or against Pistorius, but one line in particular did catch the attention:
Roux mentions that without continuing treatment, #OscarPistorius faces risk of suicide.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 2, 2014
Bateman provided an image of the report, the conclusion of which does not aid the defence:
Roux confirmed he would not cross-examine the evaluation, instead calling Professor Wayne Derman—South Africa's paralympian team doctor—to the stand. Harding noted the following:
I've confirmed Derman is definitely #OscarPistorius defence team's final witness.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 2, 2014
Derman has known Pistorius for six years, so he strengthened the defence's case when he described the unease felt by Pistorius on a daily basis. He also explained that disabled individuals are more prone to a fight-over-flight reaction to danger:
#OscarTrial Derman: he is an anxious individual, has a tremor of the hands and presents with a sleep disorder. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 2, 2014
#OscarTrial Derman: the fight/flight response is increased in people who have a disability. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 2, 2014
The afternoon largely played host to bits of house-keeping, after which court adjourned until 8.30am BST on Thursday, per Amanda Watson of The Citizen:
Updates from Tuesday, July 1
The trial into Oscar Pistorius' shooting of Reeva Steenkamp entered a fifth month on Tuesday, as the defence continued to call its final few witnesses, including the accused manager.
Pistorius is defending a charge of premeditated murder, claiming he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot four times on Valentine's Day, 2013.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel took his chance to cross-examine acoustic expert Ivan Lin on Tuesday morning, after Lin had testified it would be "unlikely" that neighbours could confidently declare they heard Steenkamp screaming on the night of the incident.
Nel instantly began attempting to pick holes in Lin's methods, in relation to the neighbouring houses of the Stipps and the Burger/Johnsons, both of whom claim they heard Steenkamp scream. EyeWitness News' Barry Bateman provides the main points:
#OscarTrial Lin says he was not told that at the 80m location (Stipp) he was not told their windows were wide open. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 1, 2014
#OscarTrial Lin did not visit the 177m location (Burgers/Johnson) but he was shown photos. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 1, 2014
Nel and Lin then entered a technical debate, which reached little conclusion, and it encapsulated a frustrating witness for the state, as noted by Harding:
Nel - who tore apart so many defence witnesses before the break - seems to have drawn a virtual blank with the last 2. #OscarPistorius— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 1, 2014
Pistorius' manager, Peet van Zyl, was next to be called to the witness box. He instantly gave examples of Pistorius' constant state of unease when it came to danger. Van Zyl also spoke of the accused's loving relationship with Steenkamp.
He remembers only two times in their entire working relationship when Pistorius lost his temper:
#OscarTrial Van Zyl: in Barcelona a camera crew stuck a camera in his face and called him a cheat. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 1, 2014
#OscarTrial Van Zyl: another occasion was in BBC studios where journalist was leading up to question whether he was an embarrassment. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 1, 2014
Van Zyl then listed future plans Pistorius and Steenkamp had, revealing trips and concerts they had booked for dates after the night of Steenkamp's death. He spoke of the magnificent financial future ahead of Pistorius, who was set to be a brand ambassador for life.
Harding and Bateman were both struck by the sudden clarification of what the accused has lost:
In the dock, #OscarPistorius must surely be contemplating the future being outlined by Zyl... a future now utterly transformed.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 1, 2014
#OscarTrial Van Zyl has laid bare the magnitude of what this “global sports icon” lost by shooting and killing Reeva. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) July 1, 2014
Following a brief break, Nel stepped up to cross-examine Van Zyl, instantly reminding him of a very high-profile moment when Pistorius lost his cool:
Nel asks if Zyl forgot about the incident at the London Paralympics when he accused winner of being "a cheat."— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 1, 2014
He then quizzed Van Zyl on a series of subjects, including a report that a room-mate moved away from Pistorius due to his constant rows with ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor. Pistorius has previously denied ever raising his voice with Taylor.
When Van Zyl avoided the question, Nel became confrontational with his witness:
Nel - angrily now - asks Zyl if he heard about problems with room mate. Zyl sticks to story. Nel says "i'm worried u cannot answer this."— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 1, 2014
"I'm not going to go away," says Nel. They're 3 metres apart, but for Zyl, it must feel like Nel is 2 inches from his face. #OscarPistorius— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) July 1, 2014
Court then adjourned for the day upon the request of Nel, who had not been prepared for Van Zyl to be called to the stand. Court resumes at 9.30am on Wednesday.
Updates from Monday, June 30
Oscar Pistorius discovered the findings of his 30-day psychiatric assessment on Monday, as the trial resumed into his shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius claims he shot Steenkamp by accident on Valentine's Day 2013, but the state is attempting to prove premeditated murder.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel read out the crucial findings of the evaluation, per BBC News' Andrew Harding:
Nel quotes psychiatrist report saying #OscarPistorius did not have mental disorder or defect that would have affected his behaviour.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) June 30, 2014
Defence lawyer Barry Roux moved things swiftly on, calling the first witness of the day: Dr Gerry Versfeld.
The doctor had amputated Pistorius' legs as a child, and he quoted Pistorius speaking of the vulnerability he suffers due to his lack of balance, per EyeWitness News' Barry Bateman:
#OscarTrial Versfeld: I truggle to carry items when I’m on my stumps. I fall mostly because of my left stump. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
Versfeld also walked Judge Thokozile Masipa through a visual demonstration of the discomfort felt by Pistorius, claiming he would be in great danger if ambushed while walking without his prosthetic legs:
#OscarTrial Versfeld: on his stumps in a dangerous situation, his ability to flee is significantly impaired. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
It was a demonstration that found little favour with Prosecutor Nel, who quickly reminded the court that Pistorius had claimed to have "run" back to the bedroom after firing his weapon four times:
#OscarTrial Nel is taking Versfeld though Oscar’s version, how he walked back to the room, walked around fans but didn’t fall. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel: he then went back to the bathroom, on the tiles and grout, and tried to open the door… then ran back to the room. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
#OscarTrial Nel he opened the curtains on is stumps, opened the door, moved the fans… BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
#OscarTrial Versfeld concedes its improbable that the accused to walk back and forth as described by Nel… unless he holds on to something.— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
Versfeld was later released from the witness box, at which stage an argument broke out between Roux and Nel over an electric extension cord.
The defence had requested the cord from the police but was told they did not have it. Roux asked the court to order delivery of the cord:
#OscarTrial Roux: the state sealed the house. where is that card? We are prejudiced. Roux wants the court to order delivery of the cord. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
Judge had earlier said she was "very concerned" about a missing cord that seems to have gone missing from #oscarpistorius house.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) June 30, 2014
#OscarTrial Masipa orders that who ever was responsible for sealing the house provide an explanation as to the whereabouts of the cord. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 30, 2014
Roux then called the defence's next witness, acoustic expert Ivan Lin, who was asked to test the difference between a male and female scream at distance.
Part of the state's case is that Steenkamp was heard screaming for help on the night of the incident. The defence claims the screams came from Pistorius. Harding summed up the importance of this witness:
Defence hoping expert will discredit state witnesses who insist they heard woman screams the night Reeva Steenkamp killed.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) June 30, 2014
Following an adjournment for lunch, Lin attempted to explain in technical detail the many factors that can affect how a scream sounds from distance. Harding provided the key summary of Lin's findings:
Lin says "very unlikely" that someone could have properly heard screams from inside toilet 177m away, but leaves room for doubt.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH) June 30, 2014
Court adjourned until Tuesday morning.
Oscar Pistorius returned to court in Pretoria on Monday after completing a 30-day psychiatric assessment at the Weskoppies mental-health hospital.
The South African athlete—universally known as the "Blade Runner" due to his prosthetic legs—will soon face Judge Thokozile Masipa's verdict as to whether he knowingly murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013.
Pistorius, who claims he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar before shooting his firearm four times, has already faced a barrage of questions from prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who aims to prove the 27-year-old's decision to shoot his lover was premeditated.
The result of Pistorius' testing will be heard in court on Monday, which—among other factors—will help Masipa establish the level of anxiety suffered by the accused.
Nel was forced to call for an assessment of Pistorius' mental health after expert witness Merryll Vorster claimed Pistorius' decision to shoot Steenkamp "should be seen in context of his anxiety," per BBC News.
As such, a team of four have monitored Pistorius across the past six weeks to see if he shows signs of generalised anxiety disorder, noted by Richard Hartley-Parkinson of the Scottish Daily Record.
Barry Bateman of Eyewitness News suggests the trial was nearly delayed further, while also indicating defence lawyer Barry Roux will opt to call forward additional witnesses:
#OscarPistorius there was concern of further delays because more time may have been needed, but this now appears unnecessary. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 23, 2014
#OscarPistorius Roux is expected to call about three more witnesses before closing the defence case. BB— Barry Bateman (@barrybateman) June 23, 2014
Whether Roux chooses to do so will most likely depend on the findings within Pistorius' mental report. Nel will receive an opportunity to question any further individuals called to the stand as the trial enters its final phase.