Published March 25, 2014
PRETORIA, South Africa – Oscar Pistorius, who is expected to testify in his murder trial at the end of the week, said Tuesday he's going through "a tough time" in a rare comment after the prosecution closed its case against the double-amputee runner.
It is "likely" Pistorius will take the stand to open the defense's case, said defense lawyer Brian Webber, adding there's no specific requirement for him to testify first but it is normal practice.
"I don't think we have a choice, it's a question of when," Webber said of Pistorius' testimony, which legal experts describe as critical because the judge will have a chance to assess firsthand whether he is a credible witness. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver a ruling in the case, with the help of two assessors. There is no jury system in South Africa.
After the prosecution closed its case, defense lawyer Barry Roux asked for time to consult some of the 107 state witnesses who had not testified in the case against Pistorius, who is accused of premeditated murder for the death of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he shot through the closed door of a toilet cubicle last year. Masipa adjourned the trial until Friday so that Roux could prepare his arguments that Pistorius, 27, killed the 29-year-old model by accident, thinking she was an intruder in his home.
Pistorius has sometimes reacted emotionally during the prosecution's case, shedding tears this week during testimony of text messages that he and Steenkamp exchanged in the weeks before he killed her in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. In earlier testimony, he retched and vomited at a pathologist's descriptions of Steenkamp's gunshot wounds. At other times, he has appeared calm, taking notes during testimony and conferring with his lawyers during breaks.
The Olympian once basked in global publicity stemming from his achievements on the track and but became an almost silent, somewhat cryptic figure after he killed Steenkamp, his account only outlined in legal statements that were carefully tailored by his high-powered legal team. On Tuesday, he made rare, brief comments to reporters after the court adjourned.
"It's a tough time," Pistorius said. "We've got a lot ahead of us."
Earlier Tuesday, defense lawyer Roux sought to show that Pistorius had a loving relationship with the girlfriend he killed, referring to telephone messages in which they exchanged warm compliments and said they missed each other.
The testimony contrasted with several messages read in court a day earlier in which Pistorius and Steenkamp argued in the weeks before he shot her, part of the prosecution's effort to bolster its case that the athlete killed his girlfriend after an argument. In those messages, Steenkamp told the runner that she was sometimes scared by his behavior, which included jealous outbursts in front of other people.
Roux noted that the tense messages amounted to a tiny fraction of the roughly 1,700 messages that police Capt. Francois Moller, a cellular telephone expert, extracted from the mobile devices of the couple. Roux noted a Jan. 19 exchange in which Reeva sent Pistorius a photo of herself in a hoodie and making a kissing face, followed by the message: "You like it?"
"I love it," Pistorius said, according to the message.
"So warm," Steenkamp responded.
Roux was also granted permission to show CCTV video, earlier broadcast by Sky News, which showed Pistorius and Steenkamp kissing in a convenience store.
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned the relevance of showing the convenience store video, saying he could ask for a courtroom viewing of another video, also broadcast by Sky News, that shows Pistorius at a gun range, firing a shotgun and using a pistol to shoot a watermelon, which bursts on impact.
Nel also said that many messages of affection between the couple were brief, in contrast to the texted arguments, which were far longer and dwelled on their relationship in greater depth.
Earlier, Moller said Steenkamp connected to the Internet on her cellular telephone hours before Pistorius killed her. She made the connection just before 9 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2013, and the connection lasted for more than 11 hours, possibly because social media programs were still open.
Pistorius shot her shortly after 3 a.m. in the early hours of Valentine's Day, and Moller's extraction of data also shed light on what appeared to be a frantic series of phone calls made from one of Pistorius' cellular telephones after the killing. They include a call to the administrator of the housing estate where Pistorius lived at 3:19 a.m. on Feb. 14, a call a minute later to an ambulance service and a call a minute after that to the housing estate security.