PRETORIA, South Africa – In a sometimes ruthless cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial Wednesday, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel scrutinized the athlete's story that he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by mistake on Feb. 14, 2013.
Here are some of the key points Nel raised on his first day questioning Pistorius:
INTENTIONAL OR MISTAKE
Nel began dramatically by urging Pistorius to face up to his actions and to look at a grisly police photo of Steenkamp's head and the wounds caused by the Olympian's shooting.
"Take responsibility for what you've done, Mr. Pistorius," Nel said, telling the athlete to look at the graphic photo, which caused a stir in court. Pistorius refused to.
Later, Nel pressed Pistorius on his mindset and intentions when he fired four times through a door into a toilet cubicle where Steenkamp was, asking him to say that he'd fired purposely at a person. Pistorius referred to the shooting as "a mistake" and "accidental" and repeated his claim that he believed an intruder was about to come out of the cubicle and attack him.
"You never purposely fired shots into the door?" Nel asked as he tried to establish Pistorius intended to kill. "I'm not denying that I shot at the door," Pistorius said, but added that he "never intended to kill anyone."
Nel pounced on inconsistencies in Pistorius' story about how many fans he said he brought inside in the pre-dawn hours when he heard a noise in the bathroom that made him believe there was an intruder. In his first court affidavit last year, Pistorius said there was one. Now he says there were two fans. Also, Nel showed a photo of a row of plug sockets where Pistorius said one of the fans was plugged in. There was no space for the plug. Pistorius suggested it wasn't important and Nel responded: "It's not insignificant, Mr. Pistorius. It will show that you are lying."
ON THE BALCONY?
In his bail hearing statement in February last year, Pistorius said he went out "onto the balcony" to bring the fans in on the night of the shooting. Nel noted Pistorius' story now was that he remained inside his bedroom and only went to the edge where the balcony meets with the room to bring the fans in. Nel suggested that Pistorius wouldn't have been able to hear a noise in his bathroom from out on the balcony and therefore changed the detail to suit his story.
Through three days of defense-led testimony from Pistorius, he painted an image of himself as a committed athlete and religious man who sometimes felt fearful and vulnerable to crime and was therefore extra-careful. Nel immediately attacked that image and was granted permission by the judge to show a video where Pistorius was shown shooting a watermelon at a gun range with a powerful handgun and then saying, after howls of laughter from people with him, that the gun was a "zombie stopper" and the watermelon was "softer than brains." Nel said Steenkamp's head "exploded" just like the watermelon.
HIS TESTIMONY SCRIPTED?
Nel repeatedly said that Pistorius had some of his answers pre-planned and ready, and wasn't answering the specific questions the prosecutor was asking. Nel also asked the runner if his overall account was from his own memory or a "reconstruction" with the help of lawyers.
"You've got long arguments, long answers," Nel said to Pistorius, suggesting his testimony was overly-coached by his legal team.
"I can't change the truth," Pistorius responded.
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