Advocate Barry Roux, lawyer for Oscar Pistorius. Picture: SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius’s lawyer Barry Roux has set his murder trial alight with bruising questioning of State witnesses. Behind the bluster lie a few basic, long-used techniques of cross-examination.

Unearth inconsistencies

No matter how irrelevant or esoteric, Roux is quick to pounce on inconsistencies in a witness’s testimony or compared to that of others. Whatever the issue, the aim is the same – to discredit them. “Did you hear three gunshots or two-or-three gunshots?”

Do you really know what you know?

Vagueness in testimony is equally seized upon in Roux’s cross-examination. If a witness lacks an accurate recollection about one thing, perhaps they can’t be sure of anything.

Question authority

Roux has tried to lessen the impact of potentially damaging expert witnesses by proving they are a little less expert than they claim to be. Police forensics expert Gerhard Vermeulen has three decades of experience, but we now know he’s never done a course on examining tool marks.

Flip the witness

One key aim of cross-examination is to use State witnesses against the State. Roux has arguably had less success with this than he has with discrediting witnesses, but his questioning led Vermeulen to admit Pistorius first shot through his bathroom door then hit it with a cricket bat – backing the sprinter’s timeline of events.

Prove bias

Some witnesses appeared to show bias against Pistorius, which could jeopardise their testimony’s validity. State witness Michelle Burger angrily questioned Pistorius’s version of events when Roux probed her memory of hearing screams. He also insinuated that Vermeulen only investigated evidence that supported the State’s argument.

Unnerve the witness

Roux used interruptions to unsettle witnesses. He often used “No, my question is different” and “I am making a different point”, and once even asked for a witness’s phone records. He goes further than he might in countries with jury trials, where such badgering would be counterproductive.

Rhetoric

Roux’s linguistic gymnastics often spun witnesses’ testimony in his favour. “What do you remember today?” Roux asked one witness, implying they remembered differently before. He also made much of witnesses testifying in their second language and using words apparently in the wrong context. Roux was scathing after Vermeulen said he did not “bother” to probe a certain mark on the bathroom door.

Sapa-AFP