PRETORIA, South Africa — The prosecutor in the murder trial of South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius accused him of repeatedly lying to the court and offering versions of events so improbable that “nobody would think it is reasonably or possibly true.”
Pistorius, on trial in Pretoria’s high court on a charge that he murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, denied Thursday that he pulled the trigger of a gun that went off in his hand in a crowded upscale South African restaurant in early 2013, a contention the prosecution described as impossible.
Pistorius also flatly denied firing a gun out the sunroof of a car in 2012, although two witnesses, ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor and former friend Darren Fresco, testified that he had.
Explaining how he fatally shot Steenkamp, Pistorius said he accidentally fired through the door of an enclosed toilet in his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year after hearing a noise within.
Grilled by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel on whether he aimed at the door and fired accidentally or intentionally, Pistorius said he was confused.
“I’m getting confused with this ‘accidentally’ or ‘not accidentally.’ I don’t understand, my lady,” Pistorius said, addressing Judge Thokozile Masipa.
Crumpling under a second day of blistering cross-examination, he again broke down, insisting that he had fired accidentally.
He had his gun loaded but did not intend to shoot through the door to the toilet, where he believed an intruder or intruders were, Pistorius testified. He fired when he heard a noise that he interpreted to mean he was being attacked.
But he admitted that he had no reason to shoot, given that there was actually no intruder.
He said he was so terrified that he didn’t remember how many bullets he fired, but did remember firing rapidly.
The prosecution alleges that the couple had fought and that Steenkamp ran screaming to the toilet and locked herself in before Pistorius shot her.
Nel relentlessly painted a portrait of a self-absorbed man who wouldn’t take responsibility for wrongdoing, was negligent with firearms and ammunition and didn’t recognize a police officer’s right to confiscate a loaded gun that Pistorius had left unattended on a car seat.
Nel accused him of egotism and of humiliating Steenkamp publicly. He questioned the sincerity of Pistorius’ apology to the Steenkamp family at the outset of the trial, since he had had a year to make a more humble private apology.
“If you wanted to apologize to Reeva’s parents, why did you create a spectacle in court, do it in the public eye? Again, you never thought about them, sitting in the public gallery of the court hearing that. You thought about Oscar Pistorius.”
Pistorius said his gun safe “possessed items that belonged to me and my father,” including .38-caliber ammunition for which he had no license. At another point he said a Glock pistol in his hand fired by itself at a restaurant, and he repeatedly insisted he had never pulled the trigger. A ballistics expert has testified that the gun cannot fire unless the trigger is pulled.
When the prosecutor told him it was illegal to keep the ammunition in his safe without a license, Pistorius responded, “It’s not my understanding of the law.”
“This is the second time today,” Nel mockingly replied, referring to the possession of the ammunition. “First we had the miraculous discharge of a gun. Now when I say it’s illegal, you won’t accept it.”
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Steenkamp; to unlicensed possession of .38-caliber ammunition; and to two counts of recklessly discharging the firearm, at a restaurant and from a car.
Pistorius said his late girlfriend “exaggerated” in a WhatsApp message to him complaining that he threw public tantrums, frightened her and picked on her incessantly.
“I didn’t pick on her in any way. I was good to Reeva,” the athlete said. “Reeva was never scared of me.”
Nel also suggested that after a disagreement at a function with Steenkamp, the athlete asked a friend in the car to put on an album by musician Kendrick Lamar, with the track “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” upsetting Steenkamp. She mentioned in a WhatsApp message to Pistorius after the row that “I am not some other bitch you may know trying to kill your vibe.” Pistorius said he couldn’t remember what song upset his girlfriend.
The athlete accused former friends Taylor and Fresco of lying when they said he fired out of the car’s sunroof on the way back from a social outing to the Vaal River. “That story was fabricated, my lady,” he said to the judge. “It never happened.”
Pistorius said he carried his gun with him at all times, usually “one up,” meaning there was a bullet in the chamber ready to be fired.
Nel pressed Pistorius to acknowledge that it was negligent to leave a loaded gun unattended in a boat during the 2012 Vaal River outing, as he went swimming. Pistorius said he didn’t believe any of his friends would touch the gun.
“You are not willing to concede anything,” Nel said. “Oscar Pistorius will not take responsibility.”
Nel questioned Pistorius’ contention that police tampered with the evidence after Steenkamp was shot by moving many objects in his bedroom, including a fan, curtains and a duvet.
“Is this one big conspiracy?” Nel asked him. “Why is it that they would do all this to you? Why would the police do all this?”
“I’m not sure,” Pistorius responded.