Oscar an appalling witness - Nel

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gerrie nel aug 7 SAPA Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel is seen during the final arguments of the murder trial of paralympian Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Werner Beukes

Pretoria - The State has started a blistering closing argument against Oscar Pistorius on Thursday morning, saying the athlete was a dishonest, appalling witness whose version of events should be discounted by the court.

Pistorius is accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel began his closing arguments by “setting a tone”. He quoted a fictional character - Rumpole of the Bailey - as saying that a criminal trial was a blunt instrument to dig out the truth.

He said there were two arguments for the accused that simply did not reconcile, and the court was expected to choose just one.

Nel said the defence argued Pistorius had no criminal capacity in his actions, but if he did, he engaged in self-defence. In other words, putative self-defence or sane automatism.

He said that Pistorius's version of events - that he thought an intruder was in the house - was clearly tailored and the State would argue it was simply untrue.

Nel said Reeva Steenkamp had been found fully dressed in a locked bathroom in the middle of the night with her cellphone, meaning there were few signs she had gone there to use the toilet.

He moved on to the ballistics investigation that showed Pistorius shot four times through the closed toilet door, three of which hit Steenkamp. Pistorius had used black talon ammunition from a high powered handgun. He said Pistorius faces charges of negligent handling of a firearm, and that he had in the past also misused a gun. He cited an incident where Pistorius had been in a crowded, upmarket restaurant, handling a gun under the table when it went off. Nel said this was disconcerting that Pistorius had asked his friend to pass him a gun with a child at the next table.

Nel said that for an athlete used to baton relays, it did not make sense that Pistorius would drop the gun accidentally as he claimed.

He said this incident was shortly before Steenkamp's murder, and this showed his general negligence.

He then mentioned another incident where Pistorius had fired a gun through an open sunroof in a fit of anger after being pulled over by metro police in 2012.

He said Pistorius was a generally dishonest witness, and was incapable of taking responsibility for any wrongdoing, and that he always claimed to be the “victim of circumstance”.

Nel then brought up Pistorius' argument that he was an anxious person, but cited how Pistorius had challenged the metro police during the 2012 incident, becoming angry with them.

“It's anxiety on call,” said Nel, who said that his anxiousness was a convenient excuse for the athlete.

Nel said the defence failed to call any witnesses to substantiate Pistorius' claims the screams neighbours heard on the night of the shooting were actually Pistorius, not Steenkamp.

The defence has argued that Pistorius' agitated screams after realising he'd shot Steenkamp could have sounded like a woman.

He quoted the record saying that the defence had said it would bring a witness to explain Pistorius' pitch, and that this never happened. Nel then quoted a State witness (Dr Stipp) who said he heard two people screaming simultaneously the night of the shooting, and that the defence could not address this either.

He then attacked the defence's own argument that the loud banging noises heard by neighbours on the night of the shooting prior to the screaming was Pistorius striking down the bathroom door with a cricket bat. Nel said the defence's sound experiments to prove this were faulty, and they had even thought of digitally manipulating their sound recordings to maintain their version.

He said that using the outdoor shooting range where shots were fired to try and reproduce the sounds could not accurately replicate those made on the night of the shooting. He asked why these sound recordings were not played to the State witnesses - mostly neighbours of Pistorius - who heard the shots and screams that night.

He said Roux had argued that neighbours would have been unable to hear Steenkamp screaming in the bathroom from their homes, but that the defence's own sound expert had testified to the contrary.

Nel then began pointing out contradictions between Pistorius's statements made at his plea explanation, his bail application and his cross-examination.

At his bail application, Pistorius had claimed he felt vulnerable the night of the murder and had to keep Steenkamp and himself safe. He was quoted as saying he had “fired shots at the toilet door”.

But at his plea explanation, he said he mistakenly believed intruders in his home were an imminent threat. Pistorius said he had discharged his firearm because of a noise he had heard inside the toilet cubicle.

And in his evidence in chief, Pistorius said “before (he) knew it, (he) had fired four shots”.

Nel said Pistorius' three versions were totally different, from firing with intention, to firing at a startling noise to firing without knowing what had happened.

Nel said Pistorius had tailored his version from hearing movement inside the toilet cubicle to hearing “noises”. Nel said defence expert witness Professor Wayne Derman had “tied himself in knots” trying to explain this. Derman had known and treated Pistorius for years. “It shows a person that is biased... Not an expert the court can rely on,” said Nel.

The State argued that even if Pistorius had reacted to a noise, this meant his defence that he fired “automatically” was null and void.

Nel said in the defence's own heads of argument, they had tried to explain why Pistorius was not a good witness, and had “blamed Nel”. saying he (Nel) had repeatedly called Pistorius a liar. Nel denied this, and said he pointed out contradictions in Pistorius' testimony, saying that if the State's version was true, Pistorius “was lying”, and even apologised for this when reprimanded by the court.

Nel urged the court to throw out Pistorius' evidence if it could not find a credible version of events from his testimony.

He argued that it had become fashionable to blame the State's supposed “unethical” practices - such as not calling all of their witnesses - as the reason why proper evidence could not be provided by the accused. Nel read from previous case law that said the State is under no obligation to call witnesses that could damage its case. Nel added that these witnesses were made available to the defence to be called.

He said that should the court reject Pistorius' evidence, they would have to rely on the objective facts and circumstantial evidence.

Pointing out some of the objective facts, he said Pistorius' shooting was not a wild firing, but a closely grouped, aimed series of shots.

Nel said Pistorius had told people arriving at the scene that he had thought Steenkamp was an intruder and had shot her. He said Pistorius had never told anyone it was an accident because of a startling noise or that he'd made a mistake.

He then moved onto the post-mortem evidence that suggested Steenkamp had food in her stomach, meaning she might have eaten shortly before her death, contradicting Pistorius's version the couple were sleeping for hours before the shooting.

Nel said that Pistorius had been an appalling, argumentative witness who provided vague answers with the occasional bits of clarity on incidents that helped improve his case.

“He was more concerned with implications (of his answers) than the truth,” said Nel.

He said that the scene of the crime and position of several objects in Pistorius' room - the duvet, a pair of jeans and the bedroom fan - meant the athlete's version of events could not be reasonably true. Nel argued that Pistorius claimed at first to have gone on to the balcony to bring in the two fans, and that this changed to him reaching out through the door to grab the fans. According to Nel, this was to Pistorius tailoring to explain how he heard the noise he claimed he heard coming from the bathroom, which he could not have heard while on the balcony.

He said the accused admitted his own version was a combination of his memory and what he'd read in the court record.

Nel also referred to a series of lies Pistorius told on the stand regarding a video he featured in when firing a high powered gun at a watermelon.

Pistorius at first claimed he had never been in such a video, or referred to the gun as a “zombie stopper”, as far as the athlete could remember. But Nel pointed out that in the video, Pistorius is seen firing and heard uttering the phrase.

He insisted that Pistorius's lies had a domino effect, with more coming to ensure the athlete's version remained in tact.

Nel also recalled how the defence had insisted it would prove the crime scene was tampered with, but had failed to bring any witnesses or evidence to prove this.

The argument continues.

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