Pistorius murder trial: The 2 sides
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) Was Oscar Pistorius in a rage during a fight and intent on killing his girlfriend, or terrified of an attack by an intruder and startled by a noise?
Prosecution and defense lawyers have presented contrasting reasons for Pistorius firing the shots that killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. After both sides completed their final arguments Friday, Judge Thokozile Masipa announced she would present her verdict on Sept. 11.
A look at the arguments she must consider:
WHY DID HE SHOOT?
Prosecutors charge that Pistorius knew Steenkamp was in a toilet cubicle and while arguing with her, he got his gun and fired four times through the door. The prosecution says that makes the star athlete guilty of premeditated murder.
Pistorius’ chief defense lawyer, Barry Roux, argues that a highly anxious Pistorius thought it was an intruder and fired after being startled. Pistorius’ ”reflexive” action came after years of living in fear of being attacked, and not being able to escape because of his disability, his defense said.
WHEN DID HE SHOOT? THE DISPUTED 5 MINUTES
The defense says Pistorius shot Steenkamp at about 3:12 a.m. Prosecutors differ. Pistorius fired the fatal shots later, they allege, around 3:17 a.m. The five minutes’ difference is critical because that is the time when witnesses say they heard screaming.
If the judge accepts the defense timeline that the screaming happened after Steenkamp was shot, it helps the defense’s argument that Pistorius was screaming in a high voice for help. If prosecutors have convinced the judge that the screaming came before or during the shots, it suggests the couple were fighting and supports prosecutors’ allegation of murder.
The combined final arguments of the prosecution and defense amount to 352 pages and the evidence entered in court in the 41 days of trial proceedings runs to thousands of pages of record.
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel points out that Steenkamp was fully clothed when she was shot, and was standing upright and close to the door. He argues this is not the position of someone who was listening to Pistorius scream at an apparent intruder. The grouping of the shots was close together, Nel says, showing measured shooting by Pistorius and not ”wild” firing by a terrified man.
Defense lawyers focused closely on the timeline of events between 3:12 a.m. and 3:27 a.m. in their closing arguments, saying that records of phone calls made by Pistorius and neighbors show how his story matches the sequence of events. Pistorius’ lawyers argue the prosecution’s timeline leaves no space for Pistorius to bash down the door with a cricket bat, which experts agree happened.
POLICE TAMPERING VS. PISTORIUS LYING
Part of Pistorius’ version rests on his claim that he got out of bed in the night to bring two fans in from a balcony, and it’s the reason he didn’t notice Steenkamp get out of bed. Prosecutors argued his fan story is a lie and he created it to explain why he ultimately mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. The position of one of the fans did not match Pistorius’ story, prosecutors say.
But chief defense lawyer Barry Roux insists police investigators moved some bedroom items. Also, a photo, Roux says, actually showed an electrical cord could reach to where Pistorius said he left a fan when prosecutors initially claimed it could not reach.
Judge Masipa can convict Pistorius of premeditated murder, a lesser murder charge or of negligent killing. She can acquit him completely if she believes he had no intention to kill but also acted reasonably while believing his life was in danger. A premeditated murder conviction in South Africa calls for a minimum prison sentence of 25 years up to life. Murder without premeditation calls for 15 years, and negligent killing with a firearm at least five years in prison. However, legal experts say a conviction on negligence may bring a longer sentence than five years for Pistorius because he fired multiple times into a small space.
Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP