World & Nation

Pistorius ‘dropped the baton of truth,’ prosecutor says

Oscar Pistorius closing arguments
South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius rubs his eyes during closing arguments at his murder trial in Pretoria on Thursday.
(Mujahid Safodien / Pool Photo)

South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius should be convicted of premeditated murder, prosecutor Gerrie Nel told Pretoria’s high court  Thursday, saying the athlete had given an unlikely, contradictory account of what happened the night he killed his girlfriend.

He said the track star, the first Olympic athlete to compete with two prosthetic legs, “dropped the baton of truth” in his testimony by repeatedly lying.

In his closing argument, Nel spelled out a “baker’s dozen” of what he called significant lies and incongruities. He added that whenever Pistorius couldn’t answer a prosecution question, he would either get emotional or claim he couldn’t remember.

Pistorius came across as defensive, not as someone who was willing to tell the the truth about the night he killed Reeva Steenkamp, Nel said. “You tell one lie and you just have to build on it, build on it. It just becomes ridiculous,” the prosecutor said.


During the trial, Pistorius at times howled over Steenkamp’s death, wept, vomited and said he was tired. The prosecution said Pistorius was not only “a deceitful witness, but … he in fact tailored his evidence, and used well-calculated and rehearsed emotional outbursts to deflect attention and to avoid having to answer questions.”

Pistorius acknowledges that he killed Steenkamp in February 2013 when he shot four times through a door into a toilet closet off his bathroom. He testified that he fired accidentally and that he suspected an intruder,  not Steenkamp, was in the toilet.

Nel contends he shot her after an argument.

“The accused used high-performance Black Talon ammunition, which had the effect of ripping through her body, causing major tissue trauma and her subsequent death,” Nel told the court. He added that Pistorius couldn’t rely on a legal defense that he fired in self-defense, because that would be inconsistent with the defense that he didn’t intend to shoot.


Nel argued that Pistorius aimed deliberately at the door, knowing that firing would kill whoever was on the other side – whether an intruder or Steenkamp. Under South African law, that would amount to murder, regardless of the identity of the victim.

Nel accused Pistorius of offering two conflicting defenses: either that he acted in self-defense in the mistaken belief his life was in danger, or that he was startled by a noise and acted unconsciously, never intending to shoot.

Nel was highly critical of the second of those – that Pistorius never intended to shoot and acted unconsciously or automatically.

In South African case law, the “automatism” defense requires extraordinary circumstances. Nel said that would ordinarily mean the accused had no memory of what happened. But Pistorius’ evidence showed he was acutely aware of what he was doing when he armed himself and approached the bathroom, Nel said.

The deliberate action of going to get his gun, making a decision to shoot, cocking the gun, walking five yards to the bathroom and then carrying out the plan amounted to premeditation, Nel argued.

He called Pistorius an “appalling” witness who was argumentative, vague and deceitful. He said the defense tried to blame Pistorius’ poor performance on the prosecution, accusing Nel of “repeatedly” calling the athlete a liar.

He argued that even if Pistorius thought he was shooting a burglar – as Pistorius argued at certain stages of the trial – he was guilty of murder with direct intent, a South African legal definition that means he intended to kill the person in the bathroom and did so.

“His intention when he fired those shots was to kill a human being,” Nel said.


At the very least, he argued, Pistorius is guilty of murder in that he foresaw that firing four bullets into the toilet cubicle would kill anyone inside and he did it anyway.

Nel argued that the central plank of Pistorius’ case was that he “screamed like a woman” – a key point that would neutralize the testimony of neighbors who said they heard a woman screaming.

Nel said no evidence was ever offered to demonstrate that Pistorius screamed like a woman.

Pistorius’ defense attorney, Barry Roux, is expected to rely heavily on a timeline of events that he says will prove Nel’s version of what happened that night is impossible. Roux is scheduled to present his arguments Friday.

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