Johannesburg - The gloves are off. On Thursday, 157 days since Oscar Pistorius stepped into the North Gauteng High Court’s courtroom GD, family members, journalists and members of the public will listen and watch as prosecutor Gerrie Nel and defence advocate Barry Roux SC, lock horns, presenting their closing arguments before Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two assessors.
The State’s case is that Pistorius, who turns 28 in November, killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp following a lover’s tiff in the early hours of February 14 last year.
And while cross-examining Pistorius in April, Nel had charged: “You killed her, admit it, you killed her. Say, ‘I shot and killed her’. I will say that she ran away screaming. She ran to the bathroom to get away from you. You knew Reeva was behind the door and you shot her.”
Pistorius, through Roux, has denied Steenkamp screamed that morning, saying the “blood-curdling, petrified screams”, as described by neighbour Michelle Burger and her husband Charl Johnson, should be attributed to him as his voice rises in pitch when he’s anxious, causing him to scream like a woman.
Pistorius though, was not asked to scream like a woman when he took the stand in April and as Nel presents his closing arguments, he is likely to rehash an argument he presented during the bail hearing closing arguments in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court last year.
“The witness(es) … Why would they lie? They are independent witnesses, so they have no reason to lie,” said Nel last year.
For his part, Roux is likely to challenge the State’s failure to prove that the couple had fought.
Despite Nel presenting Whatssapp messages to the court, among them a lengthy message Steenkamp sent Pistorius which started with “I’m scared of you sometimes,” Roux said the couple were in a loving relationship when the double amputee fired four bullets through a locked toilet cubicle, hitting Steenkamp three times.
However, Professor James Grant of the Wits School of Law has told The Star that “the State has presented a lot of evidence which seems inconsistent with his (Pistorius’s) version”.
It was Pistorius who was in trouble and there was no way of redeeming him, at least from being locked up for murder, said Grant.
Having pleaded putative self-defence – danger was approaching and I had to protect myself – the athlete changed his defence to involuntary action – I was not thinking so shots just went off – when he took the witness stand in April.
His own witness, Professor Merryll Vorster then introduced a third defence while testifying in May, saying Pistorius suffered from a general anxiety disorder (GAD). This meant he had diminished capacity – while he was not insane, he could not fully comprehend the nature of the criminal act he was committing due to his anxiety.
The GAD argument was, however, disputed by a team of three psychiatrists and a psychologist who assessed Pistorius (for 30 days) at the Weskoppies psychiatric hospital.
Even arguments for culpable homicide – it was a mistake that a reasonable person would have made in such circumstances – seemed to have been dealt a blow by Pistorius himself. The defence called Professor Wayne Derman, who said Pistorius had an exaggerated “flight or fight” response due to his vulnerability on his stumps. He chose to confront danger rather than flee as running away was virtually impossible.
Pistorius’s response to a noise from his bathroom – grabbing his gun and firing four bullets through a locked toilet door to eliminate danger – was exactly how a reasonable disabled person would have responded under the circumstances.
But with culpable homicide, said Grant, “a lot depend(s) on you showing that you actually made this mistake and the best person to show how this mistake occurred is the accused himself and the accused in this case did a very poor job”.
The ultimate decision, though, will be made by Judge Masipa, having considered all evidence presented in court by the 37 witnesses called by the State and defence teams, as well as the closing arguments on Thursday and Friday.