Prosecutor goes on the offensive at Pistorius trial
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The chief prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius questioned the athlete for the first time on Wednesday, urging him to “take responsibility” for killing Reeva Steenkamp and displaying a police photograph of her bloodied head for the court.
In a dramatic and aggressive start to his cross-examination, prosecutor Gerrie Nel demanded that Pistorius say outright that he killed his girlfriend.
"I made a mistake," Pistorius said. "My mistake was that I took Reeva's life."
"You made a mistake?" Nel asked indignantly. "You killed a person, that's what you did! You shot and killed her, won't you take responsibility for that?"
“You killed her,” Nel said. He then told Pistorius to say it.
Pistorius responded: “I did.”
“Today we saw why Gerrie Nel is known in South African legal circles as ‘the pitbull’,” FRANCE 24’s Jane Flanagan reported from Pretoria. “He’s showing no sympathy for Pistorius’s sobbing, which we’ve seen so much of during this trial.”
Pistorius, 27, says he shot his model girlfriend by accident in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year after mistaking her for an intruder. The prosecution alleges that he killed her on purpose after an argument. Pistorius faces a possible prison term of 25 years to life if convicted of premeditated murder.
Nel then set about trying to portray Pistorius as a man with a temper and an obsession with guns.
Nel showed the court a video, earlier broadcast by Britain’s Sky News, of the Olympic athlete at a shooting range with friends. Firing at and hitting a watermelon, Pistorius said that although the fruit was “softer than brains”, the .50-caliber weapon was nevertheless “like a zombie stopper” – an apparent reference to films in which only a shot to the head can kill a zombie.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux had earlier objected to the shooting range video being shown, saying it was inadmissible character evidence and amounted to a legal “ambush”. But Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that it court be shown to the court.
Referring to the video, Nel told Pistorius: "You know that the same happened to Reeva's head? It exploded. I'm going to show you," he said, before projecting a forensic photograph of Steenkamp onto the court monitors.
The photograph showed a post-mortem side view of Steenkamp, with a mass of blood and tissue on the back and upper parts of her head. Her eyes were closed.
Flanagan said there were audible gasps from the gallery when the photo was shown.
“It was a horrifying spectacle,” she said. “It laid bare the devastating injuries Steenkamp suffered.”
Nel tried to force Pistorius to look at the image. "Have a look there, I know you don't want to, because you don't want to take responsibility," he said.
"I've taken responsibility," Pistorius said.
“I remember,” Pistorius said, becoming distraught and turning away from the photo. “I will not look at a picture where I’m tormented by what I saw and felt that night. As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head. I remember. I don’t have to look at a picture. I was there.”
Pistorius then broke down, prompting the judge to call a short recess.
Pistorius also described in detail the last moments of his girlfriend’s life and how he desperately tried to revive Steenkamp, who was hit by three of the four pistol rounds he had fired through the door.
"I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn't," he said. "I could feel the blood was running down on me," Pistorius said.
Pathologists said she was mortally wounded by a shot to the head. She was also hit in the arm and hip.
Pistorius, fighting back tears, told the court how he carried her, bleeding and “struggling to breathe”, out of the toilet cubicle and downstairs to get help. He said he applied pressure to her hip wound to try to stop the bleeding.
He said both he and neighbours tried to administer first aid before the paramedics arrived.
But he said she died in his arms before help arrived.
“Reeva had died while I was holding her,” Pistorius said, telling how he put his fingers in her mouth to try to help her breathe and put his hand on her hip to try to stop the bleeding from one of her wounds.
But Pistorius said he knew that Steenkamp was already dead.
"The paramedics arrived. They asked for some space to work so I stood up," he said, his voice quavering with emotion.
"Reeva, Reeva had already died whilst I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew there was nothing they could do for her."
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)