Fierce attack leaves Oscar Pistorius on the ropes
IT WAS the most damning day yet of cross-examination in the Pistorius trial as the prosecutor landed a series of blows on the defendant. Little wonder the Paralympian's lawyer was showing the strain.
His right leg cocked and rested on a chair, his voice loud and resolute, the arm of his tiny spectacles repeatedly jabbing in the direction of the witness box, the state prosecutor Gerrie Nel looked Oscar Pistorius in his reddened eyes, and dismantled almost every aspect of how the Olympic sprinter and Paralympian claims he shot and killed his girlfriend.
Piece by piece, the picture painted by Mr Pistorius, of a tragic accident in which he mistook Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder locked in his toilet, was pulled apart, accompanied by a quiet and repetitive chorus from the witness box of "It's not true, my lady", "I'm not sure, my lady" and "I don't remember".
It was not the most dramatic day of the trial - that came when Ms Steenkamp's catastrophic injuries were shown to the court last week and Mr Pistorius refused to look at the images - but it was the most damning. Breaking down, the 27-year-old athlete told the court how he screamed at the imagined intruders to "Get the fuck out of my house".
"Get the f*** out of my house - that's what you shouted at Reeva," Mr Nel countered, before showing a picture, taken from above, of the blood-stained toilet cubicle in which she was fatally shot. Police forensics officers used thin, rigid poles to show the trajectory of the four bullets that Mr Pistorius fired.
The first bullet, "bullet A", was aimed at the toilet. It is this projectile that experts on both sides agree struck the 29-year-old law graduate and model in the hip, causing her to fall. The next two bullets were fired in the direction of a magazine rack, about 2ft away. "You were shooting at Reeva," Mr Nel told Mr Pistorius. "You heard Reeva fall and you changed your aim."
"It's not true, my lady," the athlete insisted, addressing Thokozile Masip, the trial judge at the High Court in Pretoria.
Then there were Ms Steenkamp's jeans, found on the floor when all her other clothes were neatly packed away.
"The jeans were out because she wanted to leave," Mr Nel demanded. "It's not true, my lady," Mr Pistorius replied.
When asked about the contents of Ms Steenkamp's stomach, which were revealed during her autopsy and suggested that she probably ate less than two hours before her death at 3am - significantly later than the 7pm the athlete has claimed - Mr Pistorius could offer no explanation. "I don't know why," he told the court.
"This particular point I put to you is devastating," Mr Nel went on. "She cannot have gone down and ate because the [burglar] alarm would have gone off."
Most damning of all was the noise Mr Pistorius claims to have heard - of the toilet door slamming - but which was not mentioned either in his bail application last year or his plea explanation this time round. It is a crucial noise, one which convinced Mr Pistorius that an intruder was in his toilet. At his bail hearing, the sprinter claimed: "I saw the bathroom door was closed and I thought someone could be in there."
"There is not a single word of that door closing in your bail application. Why?" Mr Nel asked.
"I'm not sure, my lady," Mr Pistorius told the judge.
"It's not in your plea explanation either. Why is that?"
"I'm not sure, my lady."
"If you said it to [your own defence] counsel? Why did they not put it in?"
Again, Mr Pistorius's reply was: "I'm not sure, my lady."
Referring to a blue light on Mr Pistorius's amplifier, which the athlete claims he was about to cover with Ms Steenkamp's jeans when he heard what he believed to be an intruder, it was put to him that the amplifier has many lights when switched on.
"You have to create time, in your version," Mr Nel said. "You have to build a time gap for Reeva to get to the bathroom. That's why you invented the blue light."
"I'm not trying to create time," said Mr Pistorius. "The state is trying to create time in its case. [Ex-girlfriend and state witness] Samantha Taylor said it takes four minutes for me to put my legs on. I did it in court. It takes 30 seconds."
At one point, it appeared that the athlete was seeking to change his defence, that his shooting through the door was an "involuntary action" rather than "putative self-defence", but Mr Nel wouldn't allow him.
The prosecutor alleged that Mr Pistorius was in complete control of the situation when he picked up his gun and moved down a corridor, shouting for Ms Steenkamp to phone the police, and yet when he fired the weapon, he claims he did so "without thinking".
Why, Mr Nel asked, had Ms Steenkamp gone to the toilet in the dark and not switched on any lights? Mr Pistorius claimed that she probably used the light from her mobile phone. But in the pitch darkness, why had he not seen this light, if the tiny light from his stereo amplifier was bothering him so much?
Why, when he ran back to the bedroom, did he not see whether his girlfriend had left through the bedroom door and gone downstairs to safety? Mr Pistorius said that by this point he had already come to fear it was Ms Steenkamp in the toilet, and that it would have been a "waste of time".
Mr Pistorius denies murder and insists he opened fire through the bathroom door because he was convinced an intruder was hiding there.
The prosecution, which alleges that the shooting was premeditated and the couple had been arguing, must prove that Mr Pistorius intended to kill. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 25 years.
Mr Nel's cross-examination is expected to last perhaps another two days. Then the defence team will begin to call their witnesses. They have a mountain to climb.
After yesterday's hearing, Mr Pistorius was driven away in his silver Land Rover, holding his face in his hands behind the frosted-glass windows.