South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius returned to the dock yesterday for the finale to his gripping murder trial as lawyers present closing arguments in a case that has captured the world’s attention.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel started off a two-day showdown between the country’s top legal minds, insisting Pistorius deliberately murdered his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year and declaring him a “deceitful witness.”
Pistorius, a double-amputee star sprinter known as the “Blade Runner,” has denied the charge in the months-long trial in which he has at times sat weeping and vomiting in the dock as grisly details of Steenkamp’s death were presented to the judge.
His legal team — led by top defence lawyer Barry Roux — has sought to convince Judge Thokozile Masipa that the 27-year-old Pistorius shot his girlfriend by accident, believing her to be an intruder.
The defense has sought to portray Pistorius as a “highly vulnerable individual” obsessed with safety — a result of a difficult childhood and his disability — in a country with a sky-high crime rate.
During the trial, Pistorius underwent psychiatric evaluation and a ensuing report said he was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, but was not suffering any mental illness that could prevent him being held criminally responsible for his actions.
The athlete appeared at Pretoria High Court for the start of closing arguments wearing glasses and a dark suit, clenching his jaw as Nel accused him of concocting an alibi to avoid justice.
“It is the state’s case the accused was a deceitful witness,” said Nel, describing Pistorius’s testimony was “absolutely devoid of any truth.”
He said there are “glaring contradictions” in the Paralympic gold medalist’s story.
Initially, Pistorius said he shot Steenkamp by mistake through a toilet door in his upmarket Pretoria home, believing her to be an intruder.
However under intense cross-examination, he said he accidentally shot his girlfriend as a result of deep-seated anxiety caused by his disability and did not mean to kill anyone.
Nel also said Pistorius had anxiety “on call,” suggesting the runner manufactured a fear of crime to suit his version.
Legal analysts watching the case say the runner, once revered for his triumph over disability, did damage to his case by appearing to offer two different defenses.
Members of Pistorius’ extended family, including elder brother Carl, have been a permanent feature in the public gallery. However, Carl Pistorius remains in an intensive care unit in a South African hospital and is on a ventilator after a serious car crash last week, the brothers’ family said on Wednesday.
The Pistorius family said in a statement that Carl Pistorius was still in ICU at the hospital in the capital, Pretoria, “due to the serious nature of the injuries sustained in the accident.”
“He is stable and showing signs of improvement,” the family said in a brief update without giving details of his injuries.
Carl reportedly sustained multiple fractures in a head-on collision on a highway in northern South Africa as he returned from a business trip on Friday night.