Wrapping up five days of relentless cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial, the chief prosecutor insisted Tuesday that the Olympic runner intentionally shot his girlfriend to death after they argued before dawn on Valentine's Day last year.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he had no further questions after presenting the prosecution's case that Pistorius is lying in his account of mistakenly shooting Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door. Nel said the double-amputee runner killed her intentionally after a late night fight.
In the adjournment after his cross-examination, Pistorius rubbed his eyes and briefly sank his head into the shoulder of a man sitting with his family. He took a tissue from his sister Aimee, who squeezed his arm reassuringly. Shortly afterward, he listened attentively as Barry Roux, his chief lawyer, spoke to him in a low voice.
Throughout the grueling questioning, Nel accused Pistorius of "tailoring" evidence and "concocting" a story that he shot out of fear of an intruder in the toilet cubicle in his bathroom in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013.
"Unfortunately I have to put it to you that it's getting more and more improbable," Nel said of the story to Pistorius.
Nel asserted that the couple fought during the night and Steenkamp wanted to leave, then fled to the bathroom screaming before Pistorius shot her through the door with his 9 mm pistol. Pistorius said he never heard Steenkamp scream, or say anything in the minutes before he shot her.
The prosecutor even charged that Pistorius fired the four shots from about three meters (yards) away from Steenkamp as he was talking and arguing with Steenkamp, and changed his aim with later shots to ensure that he hit her as she fell back. Nel's unrelenting questioning and accusations provoked many denials by Pistorius and caused the athlete to break down in sobs on numerous occasions.
Pistorius says that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder about to come out of the toilet to attack him. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.
Over the past week, Pistorius came under intense pressure from Nel who accused the world-famous disabled runner of lying in the witness box. Pistorius has struggled at times to explain alleged inconsistencies during his testimony.
Nel closed his cross-examination by inviting Pistorius to take the blame for shooting Steenkamp, but he steered away from a direct response, saying only that he opened fire because he believed his life was under threat. That remark drew barbed follow-up questions from the prosecutor.
"We should blame somebody ... Should we blame Reeva?" asked Nel, who has harshly criticized Pistorius as someone who is unwilling to take responsibility.
"No, my lady," Pistorius replied, addressing the judge in line with court custom.
"She never told you she was going to the toilet," Nel said. Then he asked: "Should we blame the government?"
When Pistorius responded with another reference to a perceived attacker in his toilet, Nel asked: "Who should we blame for the Black Talon rounds that ripped through her body?"
He abandoned his line of questioning soon after the judge questioned whether he was asking the same thing in a different way. Nel summed up by saying Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp.
Pistorius remained in the witness box while Roux asked him a series of follow-up questions after the recess, with his lawyer attempting to reinforce the account of a mistaken killing. Roux asked Pistorius to describe his thoughts and emotions in the seconds before he shot at the door.
"I was terrified. I feared for my life. I was just scared," Pistorius said. "I was thinking about what could happen to me, to Reeva. I was just extremely fearful."
During cross-examination, Pistorius gave a sometimes muddled account of the shooting, saying he feared for his life but also didn't intentionally shoot at anyone. He also told Roux he didn't consciously pull the trigger on his gun and said it happened "before I could think."
Following Pistorius' testimony, the defense called Roger Dixon, a forensic expert and former policeman.
Dixon said he conducted light tests in Pistorius' bedroom on a "moonless night" — as he said the night of the shooting was — and they showed it was almost completely dark in the bedroom. Dixon also went back to the house on Monday, he testified, and tested for light again with Pistorius' music system and one of its small blue lights on, which Pistorius testified was the case on the night of the shooting.
"With your back to the light I couldn't see into the darker areas of the room," Dixon said, apparently supporting Pistorius' testimony that he could not see Steenkamp leave the bed to go to the bathroom, and so didn't know it was her in the toilet cubicle.
The defense also played recordings in court from noise tests they conducted at a shooting range on a replica door being hit with a bat and being shot at. The sounds were similar. Pistorius' team was attempting to reinforce its argument that neighbors who say Steenkamp screamed before the gunshots confused the gunshots with the sounds of Pistorius hitting the door with a cricket bat, and were actually hearing Pistorius scream as he tried to break the door down to help Steenkamp.