Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius’s case was dealt a blow on Monday when he diverted from putative self-defence, saying he had fired shots involuntarily.
“I never intended to shoot anyone. I fired shots because I got a fright,” he said when State prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked him if it was not his case that he fired shots at a perceived intruder.
“Is it not a fact that you thought you were in danger and you wanted to shoot the person?” Nel asked.
Pistorius said “no”.
He said his defence was that “I heard the noise – I didn’t have time to think and fired out of fear”, prompting Nel to say he now had two versions.
This means that Pistorius’s version changed from a putative defence, where an accused is found to have genuinely believed his life was in danger and that he was using reasonable means to avert an attack on himself or his property, to an involuntary defence, where an accused’s mind does not direct or control his conduct.
This posed questions around his credibility, said Professor James Grant, of the Wits School of Law.
“The main problem is that he just seems to be unsure of his defence. He seems unclear, and that gives rise to questions around his credibility and whether in fact he’s making this up.”
On whether advocate Barry Roux SC could still redeem his client when he re-examines him, Grant said: “To a large extent, some damage has been done.”
Professor Wium de Villiers, of the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law, agreed, saying Pistorius should have gone for a plea bargain to start with.
“I think he’s got problems. I think the defence is faltering. Only he can explain why he fired the shots. He said it was an intruder (driving him into panic mode); today he says he didn’t mean to shoot, that he shot accidentally.
“I think he’s not going to have a version any more because he has no version… I cannot at this stage see how they can save him,” said De Villiers.
In a plea explanation, Pistorius said he felt a sense of terror rushing over him when he heard a noise in his bathroom and realised there was someone in there. The bathroom window had no burglar bars and he feared the intruder might have used a stepladder left by contractors outside.
“I believed that someone had entered my house. I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. I noticed that the bathroom window was open. I realised that the intruder/s was/were in the toilet because the toilet door was closed and I did not see anyone in the bathroom.
“I heard movement inside the toilet. The toilet is inside the bathroom and has a separate door. It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself.
“I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet, we would be in grave danger. I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked and I have limited mobility on my stumps. I fired shots at the toilet door,” Pistorius said.
This would speak to putative self-defence. But, on Monday, he denied firing shots at the door, saying he had never aimed at the door.
“When you fired the shots, you never aimed – you just pointed your hand at the door and discharged the firearm?” Nel asked.
Pistorius answered “yes”.