PRETORIA, South Africa – Oscar Pistorius' chief defense lawyer predicted that he would wrap up his case by the middle of May, giving the double-amputee athlete about two more weeks to show a judge that his story that he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by mistake is reasonable and possible — the test the defense must pass.
Pistorius' lawyers have called only three of up to 17 witnesses they might ask to testify at the Olympian's murder trial, and are seeking to halt the prosecution's momentum by offering an alternative thread of evidence that backs his version.
Here's a glance at key points with the trial set to resume Monday after a two-week adjournment:
Pistorius' cross-examination by chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel appeared to expose holes in his account that he didn't know it was Steenkamp behind a toilet door when he shot four times. Nel questioned Pistorius on details from the night and inconsistencies emerged in his story. For instance, in his initial court statement last year Pistorius said that he brought one fan in from his bedroom balcony in the middle of the night before he heard a noise that made him believe there was an intruder in the bathroom. In his testimony Pistorius said there were two fans. Pistorius also never mentioned in his first affidavit that he spoke to Steenkamp before getting out of bed to bring the fans in, which he now says he did.
The judge who will deliver a verdict appeared to notice other inconsistencies when she referred to "mistakes" Pistorius was making while testifying.
Pistorius' defense has presented two expert witnesses so far and both have had their theories on the killing of Steenkamp sharply questioned by Nel. In an attempt to rebuild its case, the defense may call Johan Stander next, the manager at the gated community where Pistorius lived and who was the first person Pistorius called after the shooting and the first on the scene with his daughter. The defense wants to show that Pistorius' reaction on realizing that he had shot Steenkamp was one of panic at a terrible error.
Also, chief defense lawyer Barry Roux said some neighbors will testify and cast doubt on prosecutors' claims that Steenkamp screamed before the shots, indicating a fight between the couple.
The central theme running through Pistorius' defense is that he was terrified when he snatched his gun from under his bed, walked to the bathroom on his stumps and fired four times without ever checking where his girlfriend was.
It's believed that a psychologist may testify on Pistorius' long-held fear of violent crime, with the athlete recounting incidents, including an alleged assault and attempted highway shooting, where he says he was the target of crime before. Prosecutors note Pistorius never reported them to police.
Before the trial, the prosecution named the 107 witnesses it could call. The defense has not made public who is on its list of between 14 and 17 witnesses.
A REASONABLE STORY?
The test the defense must pass under South African law to see Pistorius acquitted of murder is to present his version as reasonable and get the judge to believe it is possibly true. That means that even Pistorius' testimony may not matter if later evidence convinces Judge Thokozile Masipa that his overall story is believable.
It's a steep challenge for Pistorius though with prosecutor Nel arguing that shooting four times at someone you can't see without ensuring the girlfriend you spoke to moments earlier is safe is an improbable story.
Defense lawyer Roux says he aims to have called all his defense witnesses by mid-May. The trial is then expected to break for both sides to prepare closing arguments, which could take as little as a day to present. Then, the judge and her assessors will take however long they need to consider evidence before delivering a verdict.
Pistorius faces three other gun-related counts as well as the premeditated murder charge and a verdict before the end of May is viewed as unlikely. In complex trials in South Africa, judges can sometimes take a day or longer to read out their verdict and their reasons for the finding. A magistrate took nearly two hours to explain why he was releasing Pistorius on bail last year.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP