Updates from Friday, Aug. 8
Oscar Pistorius' defence team delivered its crucial closing arguments on Friday, less than 24 hours after prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court Pistorius is—at the very least—guilty of murder after he killed model/girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will now consider the evidence before court resumes on Sept. 11, when Pistorius' fate will be decided.
Nel concluded that Pistorius' actions were premeditated on the night he shot Steenkamp, but defence lawyer Barry Roux relied upon an impressively solid timeline in an attempt to prove reasonable doubt, calling for Pistorius' acquittal.
Watch the live stream of the trial right here (depending on territory):
Roux began his closing statement by insinuating that both the police and the state had distorted evidence. A series of pictures throughout the trial appeared to contradict Pistorius' version of events, but Roux told the court the work of the police cannot be relied upon.
He focused on a picture of Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg, handling an extension cord, which the state had claimed was too short for the connected fan to be placed where Pistorius had suggested. EyeWitness News' Barry Bateman and BBC News' Andrew Harding noted Roux's point:
The theme put forward by Roux was that the state hid a plethora of evidence and witnesses that would have crippled its case.
Hilton Botha, the bumbling first investigating officer who performed so poorly during the bail hearing, topped Roux's list, per Sky News' Alex Crawford:
Roux, who adopted a fiery attitude from the start, attacked a series of points made by Nel on Thursday.
Nel had claimed the close grouping of the four gunshots, fired by Pistorius, was the work of an expert aim—not a panicked response—but Roux sneered:
The defence lawyer briefly hit back at Nel's claim of a faltering relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp. The deceased had sent a message saying, "I am scared of you," but Roux pointed out there was evidence to suggest they quickly made up.
Roux then told the court that Pistorius' decision to arm himself and fire was borne out of anxiety and sporting reflexes, rather than any intent to kill. Hence, the defence claims he should be acquitted either due to an involuntary reflex or putative self-defence against a perceived intruder:
Having laid out his conclusion, Roux cycled back to defend the widely perceived poor performance of Pistorius in the witness box:
Roux suggested the accusation of premeditated murder was borne out of Botha's initial claim that Pistorius was on his prothetic legs when he fired the gun. However, once this was clearly disproven, the state stuck with the allegation of intent.
He also claimed the additional firearm charges, related to separate incidents of Pistorius firing his gun out of a car sunroof and at a restaurant, were added to give the state a weightier case.
Picking holes in Nel and the prosecution's case, Roux claimed Darren Fresco's evidence about the restaurant incident must be dismissed. He also rubbished the evidence of former girlfriend Sam Taylor, who claimed Pistorius cheated on her in a fiery relationship:
Roux did acknowledge that Pistorius was guilty of negligence for the firearm going off at Tasha's restaurant.
However, turning back to Steenkamp's death, Roux began to list facts that Judge Masipa must focus on:
Roux began running through a series of witness statements, insisting the entire timeline fits Pistorius' version that he fired his gun (the first set of bangs) and then broke down the toilet door with a cricket bat (the second noises):
The evidence of Mr. and Mrs. Stipp, key witnesses for the state, was picked apart by Roux. Mrs. Stipp claimed she saw a light on, contrary to Pistorius' version, while Mr. Stipp said he saw the accused moving in the bathroom at around 3.30 a.m.
Roux insisted the timeline of the couple's evidence failed to add up:
Judge Masipa briefly halted Roux to highlight that he did not quiz Stipp on the theory that he moved details to support the state's case:
Roux next opted to assume that the state's version—which suggests the second set of bangs were the gunshots that killed Steenkamp—was accurate. Working on that assumption, he attempted to discredit the timeline of events:
Roux claimed the state deliberately chose not to call Pistorius' most immediate neighbours as witnesses because it would have destroyed its case:
Roux insisted claims of "bloodcurdling screams" from Steenkamp were actually the shouts of help from Pistorius. The topic visibly took its toll on the deceased's father, per the BBC's Milton Nkosi:
Addressing a separate topic, Roux confessed he did not know why Steenkamp still had food in her stomach, despite Pistorius claiming they ate fully eight hours before her death.
He confessed she may well have got up for a midnight snack but asked Judge Masipa if it can be taken as fact:
Following a brief lunch break, Roux returned to the state of Pistorius' relationship with Steenkamp. He highlighted the following:
He also recalled the testimony of social worker Yvette van Schalkwyk in order to attempt to rebuild some of Pistorius' character after Nel savaged the accused as a liar who only cared about himself:
Nel had listed 13 problems with Pistorius' account, so Roux opted to address them.
He first reflected on the video in which Pistorius shot a watermelon before referring to the term "zombie stopper." When asked about that specific term in court, the accused claimed he did not know what it meant, but Roux insists he was merely confused after answering questions about the night of Steenkamp's death:
Roux swept across many of the 13 points, insisting Pistorius never stated—as claimed by the state—he was outside on the balcony when he heard the noise that prompted him to grab his gun.
He also addressed the fact Pistorius had not mentioned in his bail application that he and Steenkamp had spoken prior to him getting out of bed to move the fan:
Drawing to a close, Roux insisted Pistorius' actions directly after the incident were those of a man who had just made a huge mistake:
Roux continued, insisting it was not strange that Steenkamp did not call out to let Pistorius know it was her in the toilet. He also claimed, had she been scared of Pistorius shooting at her, she would not have been stood up next to the door:
Finally, Roux directly addressed the suggestions of premeditated murder, murder or culpable homicide:
Upon conclusion, Nel objected to Roux's inclusion of new evidence: The photo produced by Roux regarding the extension cord for the fan.
He also argued against Roux's suggestion that Pistorius should be acquitted:
Court eventually adjourned, until Sept. 11, when the final verdict will be cast.
Updates from Thursday, Aug. 7
Oscar Pistorius listened as prosecuting lawyer Gerrie Nel delivered his closing argument in the athlete's high-profile murder trial on Thursday, aiming to prove the accused intended to kill girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day, 2013.
Pistorius, who shot and killed Steenkamp through a toilet door in his Pretoria, South Africa, home, maintains he mistook the model for an intruder.
Watched by the fathers of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, senior state prosecutor Nel acted as a wrecking ball toward Pistorius' version of events, telling the court that—at the very least—the accused is guilty of murder or culpable homicide.
BBC News' Andrew Harding charted Nel's opening statements, which centred upon Pistorius' inability to pin his colours to one obvious defence:
Nel's objective was clear: Paint Pistorius' defence as being so weak that the accused could not even confidently support one version.
Barry Bateman of EyeWitness News summarised, in simple terms, the two defence arguments that Nel believes Pistorius put to the court:
Sky News' Alex Crawford noted Nel's suggestion that Pistorius is hedging his bets, hoping for the court to choose which defence is best:
Having attacked Pistorius' defence, Nel next turned to his weak performance while in the witness box. He suggested Pistorius had been nervous, had tailored his version and ultimately exposed there is no truth to his words:
Ever aggressive, Nel widened his attack to ambush the decision-making of defence lawyer Barry Roux. He queried the witnesses, or lack thereof, called by the defence.
In particular, Nel pointed out that no proof was given that Pistorius screams like a girl, a key part of the defence's case. Witnesses claim they heard Steenkamp scream on the night in question, and Nel suggested this was never disproven:
He also queried the defence's limited use of its own sound tests, which were performed to test the sound of screaming and gunshots at distance.
Nel insisted the only reason the defence did not play those sound tests to witnesses in court is because it would harm its own case:
Focusing on the act of firing the gun four times, Nel insists Pistorius admitted in his bail application—prior to the court case—that he actively aimed the gun at the door.
Rather than being scared into involuntary action, as claimed by the accused in court, Nel insists thought was behind the Pistorius' every move:
The prosecuting lawyer put it to the court that the four shots fired by Pistorius were not fired in panic, per the Daily Mirror's Lucy Thornton:
Having asked judge Thokozile Masipa to form her final judgement by taking an overview of all the evidence, Nel reminded her of Pistorius' first words after the shooting, as well as the fact Steenkamp still had food in her stomach:
Police tampering became a big theme of the defence throughout the case, but Nel reminded the court that only one item was seriously questioned by defence lawyer Barry Roux:
Picture 55 remains a key item. It shows a fan in front of the bedroom door, with jeans laying slightly on top of the duvet. Both contradict Pistorius' version, which prompted the accused to suggest police tampered with evidence.
Nel put it to the court that police officials would had to have been psychics to deliberately alter the positioning of these items without even knowing Pistorius' version of events, per Gia Nicolaides of EyeWitness News:
Attempting to paint Pistorius as a liar, Nel began naming a series of inaccurate claims made by the accused.
He highlighted the video of Pistorius shooting a watermelon, after which the athlete refers to a "zombie stopper." Pistorius claimed in court he did not know what those words meant:
Continuing his list of Pistorius inconsistencies, Nel focused on Pistorius' version of events around the time that Steenkamp would have left the bedroom to go to the toilet.
Pistorius had said it was too dark to have seen Steenkamp move, but also admitted to seeing the duvet on her legs prior to her leaving the bed. Further, Pistorius claimed he deactivated the alarm after shooting Steenkamp, something on which Nel poured scourn:
Nel highlighted another highly unlikely scenario, pointing out that Pistorius did not try to speak to Steenkamp when he heard a noise deemed to be an intruder:
Nel told the court the very least Pistorius should be found guilty of is murder, even if his version is believed by the judge:
He then listed a series of unlikely details Judge Masipa would have to believe in order to accept Pistorius' version of events.
The main point centred on the fact Steenkamp did not say anything, despite Pistorius' claims that he screamed to her to call the police before he opened fire:
Pistorius ultimately claimed the act of pulling the trigger was involuntary, caused by a startle response due to fear of an intruder coming toward him.
Nel insisted this defence cannot be accepted:
After lunch, Nel focused on the strength of his own witnesses. He questioned what they had to gain by testifying against Pistorius.
He also referred to the account of neighbour Mrs. Stipp, who said the light was on when she looked across to Pistorius' house:
The timeline of events proposed by the state is that there were two sets of bangs heard by the neighbouring witnesses. Steenkamp was heard screaming after the first set of bangs, and the screaming ended after the second set.
Nel claimed the second set of bangs were the gunshots that killed Steenkamp, whereas the defence argues the second set of noises were Pistorius attempting to break down the toilet door with his cricket bat:
The prosecution insists an argument took place, leading to Pistorius' fatal firing of the gun.
Nel urged the court to follow his mosaic of evidence, which includes a light switched on, claims of an argument by a nearby neighbour, and evidence from Professor Saayman that Steenkamp had eaten way after the 10 p.m. bedtime proposed by Pistorius:
Addressing the state of the relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp, Nel shone a torch on messages sent by the deceased just weeks before her death:
Building to a crescendo, Nel asked the court how—at the very least—Pistorius cannot be guilty of murder:
On that note, Nel concluded to hand defence lawyer Roux 30 minutes to begin his closing argument before the adjournment.
He instantly asked why Nel chose not to explain, in the state's version, what caused the first set of bangs (based on the claim that the second set of noises killed Steenkamp).
Keen to hold back his main arguments for Friday, Roux clarified that his defence does not suggest a police conspiracy but merely a mess-up at the crime scene. He insisted nobody can label Pistorius a liar for pointing this out.
Court adjourned until Friday morning.
Nel leads the argument that Pistorius committed premeditated murder after the couple endured a previous altercation. June Steenkamp, mother of the deceased, noted her daughter was "so afraid" of the Paralympic athlete in the weeks leading up to her death, reported by Jill Reilly of the Daily Mail.
Pistorius, commonly referred to as the "Blade Runner" due to his prosthetic legs, faces a minimum of 25 years in jail if he is found guilty of the main charge, per The Associated Press and via SBS.
It is possible he could be acquitted of premeditated murder and found guilty of "alternative charges of murder or culpable homicide," reported by legal commentator Ulrich Roux in the AP's article for The Telegraph.
Although Pistorius hasn't been asked to plead against these charges, his statement that he didn't knowingly pull the trigger implies a not-guilty plea, reported by BBC News. He also faces two charges of discharging firearms in public and illegal possession of ammunition.
Criminal lawyer Martin Hood offers one line of thought that judge Thokozile Masipa must consider as she gets ready to make her final verdict. "Premeditated murder requires that there was a plan," said Hood, reported by The Telegraph. "I think what we have here is a crime of passion, an intentional crime, but a crime of passion."
Pistorius was asked to complete 30 days psychiatric observation prior to the case's previous break, after a witness claimed he may suffer from "generalised anxiety disorder," reported by BBC News. The evaluation came back negative, ensuring Pistorius is fully liable for any criminal actions deemed to have been carried out.
The accused made headlines in July after allegedly being involved in a nightclub brawl, according to Aislinn Laing of The Telegraph. Laing says reports of Pistorius being "flat-out drunk" are "unsubstantiated," but there's no doubt this provides unwanted attention ahead of the Steenkamp trial's conclusion.
Judge Masipa is due to adjourn the case for a "couple of weeks" after the closing arguments are heard, per SBS. She will then reveal her final verdict without the help of a jury, which are not required in South African courts.
The final arguments of both Nel and Roux can have a major impact on the trial's result. Discussions are sure to remain heated to the very last, with Pistorius knowing his future remains in the balance.