Nel under fire over Oscar grilling
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Pretoria - The raging courtroom persona of Gerrie Nel – the man tasked with breaking down Oscar Pistorius’s version of what happened on the night he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – saw him reported to the Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Friday for his abrasive style.
The commission’s spokesman, Isaac Mangena, said the commission had received notice of an intent to file a complaint over Nel’s gruelling cross-examination of Pistorius in the High Court in Pretoria over the past week.
On a day of High Court drama in which Nel put it to Pistorius that “you knew Reeva was behind that door and you shot at her… you wanted to shoot her”, the prosecutor was also warned by presiding Judge Thokozile Masipa to “watch your language Mr Nel … you don’t call the witness a liar, not while he is in the witness box”.
Nel was reported to the SAHRC by Jan Landman, a former commissioner of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, who asked the SAHRC to investigate and rule whether Nel was permitted to refer to Pistorius as a “liar”.
Mangena said: “We have acknowledged and asked the complainant to lodge a formal complaint by filling out a form. We will then assess the complaint as per our complaints handling procedure to decide whether it is something for the commission to investigate, or not.”
But on day 21 of the sensational trial, Nel remained relentless as he sought to prove the State’s case that Pistorius had been emotionally abusive to his girlfriend of four months, and then shot and killed her following an argument.
On Friday, during the Paralympian’s fifth day in the witness box, Nel told Pistorius that his version – that he thought there were intruders in his toilet, and he wanted to defend himself and Steenkamp – was lies.
“You knew Reeva was behind that door and you shot at her… you wanted to shoot her. She was not scared of any intruders in the house, she was scared of you.”
Nel told Pistorius that what happened to Steenkamp on February 14 last year, while she was behind the toilet door of his Silverwoods Estate home, was horrific. “She was in a small cubicle, being fired at four times,” Nel charged. “The crux of the case is what was she thinking at that point.”
An emotional Pistorius responded: “It has haunted me many times what she was thinking in her last moments … many times.”
But Pistorius remained adamant that he believed there was an intruder in his toilet, and that he wanted to keep this person as far away as possible from Steenkamp so that he could protect her.
Nel countered that it was unlikely an intruder would climb through the window and hide in the toilet.
Nel also asked Pistorius why he had not simply left the bedroom, but approached danger, gun in hand. He said a reasonable person would have first looked to see where Steenkamp was, before grabbing a firearm and, on his own version, heading to the bathroom.
During cross-examination, Pistorius told the court several times he had not looked for Steenkamp before rushing to the bathroom.
He could also not say why she had not answered him when he spoke to her, telling her several times to lie low and call the police.
Pistorius was adamant that he never heard Steenkamp get out of bed. He said he at first “whispered” to her, thinking she was still in the bed, to get down and phone the police.
“A reasonable person would have looked where Reeva was, to see whether she was safe,” Nel argued.
Pistorius, who claimed he had been overcome with fear, replied: “I did not think of anything else.”
Pistorius maintained that he had simply obeyed his instincts, believing the right thing to do was to put himself between Steenkamp and harm.
But Nel accused Pistorius of inventing a version of events that could allow him to claim that he had not known Steenkamp was inside a locked toilet cubicle when he shot her through the door.
“You had to come up with a version to explain why you got to the bathroom innocently… your version is a lie.”
Pistorius claimed he had cocked his firearm and walked towards the bathroom, calling to the intruder to get out of his house and telling Steenkamp to phone the police.
“There is no way you can convince the court she stood there saying nothing.”
He also rubbished Pistorius’s suggestion that Steenkamp would have been too scared to make a sound.
“She wasn’t scared of anything except you,” he said.
Nel asked whether Steenkamp had screamed while he fired the shots. Pistorius began crying softly, then said no, prompting Nel to point out that he was contradicting earlier testimony that, at that point, he could hear nothing because his ears were ringing from the gunshots.
“How can you exclude the fact that she screamed if you could not hear?” Nel asked.
“Your version never happened and you have to keep up with an untruth… that is why you are making these mistakes. Your mistakes are as convincing as your evidence,” he said, describing Pistorius’s version as “so far-fetched”.