Johannesburg - Going into closing arguments, the jewel in the State’s crown will be the words from the accused himself.
Murder-accused Oscar Pistorius’s experts may have made their reports late in the game, they may have wandered outside their realm of knowledge, but Pistorius dealt the biggest blow to his own case.
“He fared very badly during cross-examination,” said attorney Ulrich Roux.
“(His testimony) was always going to make or break the case, and I think it broke the defence’s case.”
The attorney said it did not matter how much preparation a legal team had with a witness, if their version was shown to be unreliable on the stand, there was little damage-control they could do.
As both sides in the Pistorius case prepare for closing arguments next month, they will be at pains to highlight the strongest aspects of their cases.
Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the Public Law Department at the University of Cape Town, said the neighbours were crucial to both sides. She said the neighbours who heard the screams of a woman formed the basis of the State’s case for intention in the murder charge.
“If people heard her (Reeva Steenkamp) screaming, (Pistorius) must have heard her and must have known she was behind the door, and by inference intended to shoot her,” Phelps said.
The next crucial playoff was in the realm of experts.
The State’s experts were generally stronger under cross-examination, Roux said.
A key failing of the defence experts was how they wavered from their areas of expertise, making their testimony vulnerable to being discredited, he added.
Captain Christiaan Mangena was the star of the State’s show, and held fast to his version on the stand.
His ballistics testimony is important to the State’s case as it indicated that the succession of shots was not rapid.
There was time between the shots for Steenkamp to scream, and for Pistorius to hear her.
The defence saved their best for last, with sports physician Professor Wayne Derman being their strongest expert witness.
It was his scientific and physiological testimony that took the defence’s case a step up.
“The science that (Derman) put forward about the fight-or-flight response can potentially explain certain aspects of Pistorius’s version of events that the State claimed don’t make sense,” Phelps said.
But why was the fight-or-flight aspect raised so late in the trial if it was so central to Pistorius’s actions on the night?
“The defence, in my mind, doesn’t connect, as if it was never put together strategically before,” litigation attorney, David Dadic said.
Derman called in as a final witness felt like a last roll of the dice after an anxiety disorder was not found in the psychiatric analysis, rather than a train of evidence that had been gaining momentum throughout, he added.
But the burden of proof is on the State, and their version must be beyond reasonable doubt. “I don’t think they have done that,” Dadic said.