PRETORIA, South Africa — The prosecutor cross-examining Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial Friday tried to shred his version of events on the night he shot and killed his girlfriend, saying they do not add up and go completely against how people would react in the situation the double-amputee Olympian has described.
Instead, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the “only reasonable explanation” for what happened in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year was that Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet door from around three meters away as they argued.
“She was standing behind the toilet door talking to you when you shot her,” Nel put to Pistorius right at the end of the first week of the athlete’s testimony.
“That’s not true,” replied Pistorius, one of numerous denials he issued to accusations that he was a liar through three days of rigorous cross-examination by the dogged prosecutor.
Nel cited the trajectory of the three bullets that hit the model in the hip, arm and head and which showed she was standing behind the door and facing it, and not backing away as she would have been if she thought there was an intruder in the house, Nel said. Steenkamp wasn’t scared of anyone “other than you” Nel said to the 27-year-old athlete charged with premeditated murder.
Pistorius claims he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake, thinking she was an intruder about to come out the toilet and attack him. Pistorius, once the hero of disabled sport and a multiple Paralympic champion, faces going to prison for 25 years to life if convicted on the premeditated murder charge.
Nel also scrutinized the positioning of items in the bedroom. They also indicated that Pistorius’ story was a fabrication, he argued. Nel said a duvet strewn on the floor in the bedroom in police photos shows the pair was awake and arguing just before the shooting and not in bed as Pistorius has claimed. Pistorius says it was one of many items moved by police after the shooting.
Nel led Pistorius through his own account of what happened moments before he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius said he heard a noise in the bathroom and moved down a passageway on his stumps toward the bathroom with his pistol while screaming to his girlfriend to get down from the bed and call the police. Pistorius said he then heard a noise in the toilet that he perceived to be the sound of wood on wood, which he said made him think someone was opening the toilet door to attack him. Then, Pistorius said, he opened fire.
At each stage, Nel argued that the account was improbable, questioning why Pistorius did not establish where Steenkamp was and make sure she was OK, why he would approach the alleged danger zone in the dark if he felt vulnerable on his stumps, why Steenkamp would not respond to him and why an intruder would close himself in a toilet stall.
“If you spoke to Reeva, the two of you could have taken lots of other steps,” Nel said, adding that they could have merely left the bedroom.
Pistorius said he wanted to put himself between the bathroom and the bed, where he said he thought Steenkamp was.
Nel noted that throughout Pistorius’ version Steenkamp “never uttered a word.”
“It’s not probable. It’s not possible,” the prosecutor said, asking why Steenkamp never responded to Pistorius’ panicked shouts of an intruder when she was in the cubicle.
“I agree with Mr. Nel she would have been terrified,” Pistorius said, “but I don’t think she would have shouted out … In her mind I must have been retreating toward the bathroom.” Nel responded that gave Steenkamp even more reason to talk to Pistorius, who was meters away.
Nel earlier argued that Pistorius was also prepared to lie about an incident as far back as five or six years ago — when he claims someone shot at him from another car on a highway — to build a backstory that he had a long-held fear of being attacked.
Pistorius said he saw a “muzzle flash” and heard “a banging noise” as a black Mercedes drove past him in the incident, which he said was in 2008 or 2009. Pistorius said he turned off the highway and went to a restaurant parking lot and called someone to come and pick him up. Nel asked Pistorius who he called and Pistorius replied he couldn’t remember.
But it was “such a traumatic incident,” the prosecutor said. Nel said Pistorius’ failing to remember who he called was because it never happened.
“If I could remember who I phoned I would gladly give you their name,” Pistorius said.