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Pistorius Accused of Changing Defense While Altering Testimony

By Paul Burkhardt and Christopher Spillane
April 14, 2014 6:00 PM EDT 39 Comments
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in the courtroom after his murder trial was postponed at the high court in Pretoria on March 28, 2014.
Photographer: Werner Beukes-Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in the courtroom after his murder trial was postponed at the high court in Pretoria on March 28, 2014.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius returns to the witness stand today after prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused him of changing his defense argument and altering his testimony in the trial for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The double-amputee track star appeared to retract his original claim of self defense against what he believed was an intruder in his home when he said that he fired four shots at the toilet cubicle door “accidentally.” Nel told the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, that would mean Pistorius was claiming a defense of involuntary action.

“You understand that you can’t have two defenses?” Nel said yesterday.

Nel has argued that Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked toilet door in his home after they had an argument, with neighbors testifying they heard shouting and a woman’s screams shortly after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, last year. The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV. Only audio broadcast of Pistorius’s testimony is allowed.

“I’m not saying I don’t know why, I’ve given the reason as to why I fired,” Pistorius said, minutes before breaking down crying for a second time. “I thought somebody was coming out to attack me.” Later, he said: “I fired because I got a fright.”

Pistorius said he wasn’t aiming at anything in particular and didn’t mean to kill anyone. He wasn’t thinking rationally before or after the shooting, Pistorius said.

Version Improbable

The runner was comforted by family members as the court adjourned each time he became emotional. Pistorius said on his first day of testimony he suffers nightmares about the shooting and is taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication. Nel said he was emotional because the questions were difficult.

Nel, again, put it to Pistorius that his version of events that morning was “improbable,” and accused the athlete of making up his answers to try ensure his version of events is plausible.

Pistorius’s argument that police tampered with the scene, moving items around his room, couldn’t be backed up, Nel said. A duvet that Pistorius said was placed on the floor from the bed by the police after the shooting had blood spatter on it, in line with droplets on the carpet next to the bedding, the prosecutor said.

Nel has sought to undermine defense lawyer Barry Roux’s portrayal of Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules the act wasn’t premeditated.

Bags Packed

Nel told the court that Steenkamp packed her clothes and was preparing to leave his house before the athlete shot and killed her.

“I’m saying, and it’s the state’s case, that she wanted to leave,” he said.

Nel said on April 11 that was impossible to believe Pistorius’s version that he was yelling to Steenkamp to call the police and she uttered no response while in a nearby toilet cubicle, standing facing the door.

Nel yesterday questioned Pistorius over his actions immediately after he shot through the toilet door, when the athlete said he began to search and call out for his girlfriend.

Bedroom Door

“If there were shots fired in a house, the first thing you would check was if she left through the bedroom door,” Nel said. Pistorius said he didn’t look there, though he searched for Steenkamp on the bed and yelled for help with the gun still in his hand.

“You’re getting frustrated because your version is improbable,” Nel said after asking him why he was becoming emotional. “You wouldn’t have run up and down with a cocked gun in your hand.”

Steenkamp was standing when the first hollow-point bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in testimony on March 19. She was struck by two more bullets from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said.

Nel said the trajectory of the bullet holes through the door showed Pistorius adjusted his aim after hearing Steenkamp fall following the first shot.

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE), Luxottica Group SpA (LUX)’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

To contact the reporters on this story: Paul Burkhardt in Pretoria at pburkhardt@bloomberg.net; Christopher Spillane in Johannesburg at cspillane3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net Karl Maier, Gordon Bell

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