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Nel puts Oscar on the spot

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REUTERS

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel looks on as he cross-examines Oscar Pistorius during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko

Pretoria - The gloves are off, it seems, as state prosecutor Gerrie Nel brought Oscar Pistorius to tears on the stand with extreme legal tactics.

Earlier in the day, Nel asked the court permission to show a video to the court that showed Pistorius' proficiency with firearms.

Defence advocate Barry Roux told the court his client has the right to a fair trial, and that any attempt to ambush Pistorius with undisclosed evidence would infringe on this.

He said the defence had watched the video clip, but Pistorius has not. But Roux said the state had indicated the video would not be presented as evidence, but simply to assist in Nel's cross-examination.

The court was then shown the video, where Sky News had acquired film of Pistorius firing a gun at a watermelon which explodes from the impact. “Its a lot softer than brain, but f*** its like a zombie stopper,” Pistorius admitted to having said in the video.

Pistorius said that he was making an observation about a fictional creature, and that the targets he fired at weren't human.

But Nel said Pistorius had noted the effect of the ammunition in the video. “You saw what that bullet did to that watermelon. It exploded. The same happened to Reeva's head. I'm going to show you,” Nel said, showing Pistorius pictures of Steenkamp's head wound. With no warning, this image was also shown on the court's tv screens, and June Steenkamp bowed her head in the gallery, comforted by those next to her. Pistorius said he wouldn't look at the picture because it reminded him of the horror of the night he shot her.

“I will not look at a picture that has tormented me, I was there that night, I touched Reeva's head,” Pistorius said, on the verge of tears. He said he knew the damage he'd done to Steenkamp, as he'd been there when it happened.

But Nel insisted Pistorius refused to look because he wouldn't take responsibility for his actions. He also said Pistorius had seen in practice now what his bullets would do, prompting Roux to object to these accusations. Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed that Nel had gone too far. Nel softened, acknowledged Pistorius' distress as he cried in the dock, and asked for a short adjournment for the athlete to compose himself.

The athlete's family looked on as Pistorius rocked in the stand, and his sister Aimee approached to calm him down.

June Steenkamp also spoke with one of the prosecution, but it was unclear what their conversation was about. Other journalists tweeted that the prosecutor was trying to explain why the picture had to be shown, and that she was warned beforehand of its usage. The Steenkamp family has made it clear in the past they objected to image's of Reeva's dead body being shown to the court - even accidentally.

Pistorius was ushered out of the room shortly after.

When he returned, the dejected looking athlete could only look downwards in the stand.

When questioned by Nel, Pistorius admitted he wanted to see the effect of the bullet on the watermelon.

“You were shooting at the watermelon to see the effect if you were shooting someone in the brain?” asked Nel.

Pistorius denied this, but said his comments were distasteful but referring to a zombie.

Nel moved on to the evidence Pistorius had provided over the past two days, asking if this was what the athlete remembered, or a reconstruction of events from everything he heard and read. Pistorius started by saying his evidence also focused on his personal history, his faith and career.

Pistorius said he had read the statements of all the state witnesses, and that this had informed his version somewhat.

Nel said this would have to be tested.

Pistorius said by the time he fell asleep, he had remembered everything. But Pistorius said he didn't remember certain aspects of the night after the shooting, such as calling security or carrying Steenkamp downstairs.

Pistorius said his version of events had never changed, and that his lawyers had helped him put everything together. Nel accused Pistorius of arguing, rather than answering the questions put to him.

Again Nel asked if Pistorius had used other evidence to create his version of the night of the shooting. Pistorius said he had not. Nel asked the athlete if he was familiar with his bail application affidavit, and Pistorius said he'd read it several times, but that he didn't like remembering the night.

Similarly with his plea agreement. Pistorius said there were certain aspects not in his bail application, such as Steenkamp speaking to him when he sat up in bed, phoning estate security guard, Pieter Baba and “other things”.

Nel then asked if he felt his statement and his testimony on the stand were true, and Pistorius said both were correct.

Pistorius was then asked about the fans he had retrieved shortly before the shooting occurred. Nel asked if he had ever gone onto the balcony to get the fans. Pistorius said he had not as they were in the balcony doorway. But in his bail affidavit, the athlete had said he'd been on the balcony bringing in a fan when he heard the noise that made him think an intruder had broken in.

But even before Nel pointed this out, Pistorius requested a copy of his bail affidavit, prompting Nel to say Pistorius was refusing to answer questions. “If you argue or think about evidence, you will get into trouble,” said Nel.

The lawyer also pointed out that in the bail statement, only one fan was ever referenced.

shain.germaner@inl.co.za

The Star

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