Oscar Pistorius's Grueling Testimony: Will Contradictions Doom Him?
The Olympian's brutal cross-examination may seal his fate; the defense moves on
There was a barrage of questions. Followed by another. And another.
For five long days, prosecutor Gerrie Nel relentlessly hammered Oscar Pistorius with blistering questions. Nel – nicknamed “The Pitbull” for his tough reputation and courtroom style – confronted Pistorius with contradictions in his testimony, trying to get him to admit that he intentionally killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after a heated argument.
“She was locked in the bathroom and you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her,” Nel challenged, causing the South African star to tremble as he fumbled for an answer. “Afterwards, you were overcome by what you’d done. That is true. Only because you intentioned to kill her. You realized that.”
At another point, Nel asked the Olympian who he thought was responsible for the incident. “We should blame somebody,” he sarcastically said. “Should we blame Reeva? Who should we blame for the Black Talon rounds that ripped through her body?”
The courtroom has sat in hushed silence throughout the gripping cross-examination. Pistorius, wearing a dark suit each day, often rubbed his temples and choked back tears as he testified. At his feet has been an ever-present vomit bucket.
With his testimony behind him, Pistorius faces an uphill battle for acquittal. Rather than setting the record straight, the Olympian raised even more questions about what really happened in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, 2013.
Was the Shooting Accidental?
For the first three weeks of the trial, the defense has maintained that Pistorius intentionally shot through the bathroom door at someone he thought was an intruder. That seemed to change during Pistorius’s testimony, when he insisted that the shooting would have been an accident, even if he had shot an intruder.
“It was all an accident?” Nel asked incredulously.
“That’s correct,” responded Pistorius.
“Your defense has now changed from self-defense to involuntary action,” Nel told him. “You can only have one defense, not two.”
Pistorius looked agitated. “I didn’t intend to fire but I fired,” he said. “I pulled the trigger. My firearm was pointing to where I perceived the danger to be. It never crossed my mind that shooting into the toilet would kill someone.”
Why Did Pistorius Yell?
Pistorius claimed to have yelled at the intruder. “I screamed and said, ‘Get the f— out of my house,’ he testified before dissolving into tears.
Prosecutors believe he shouted those words – not at an intruder, but at Steenkamp. “She was in fear for her life and trying to get away,” said Nel. Noting Steenkamp’s jeans strewn on the bedroom floor, Nel alleged that she had tried to flee her boyfriend.
“It is the state’s case that the jeans were on the floor as Reeva wanted to leave that night,” he said. “You had had an argument.”
Did He Run to the Balcony To Seek Help?
During a police interview, Pistorius claimed to have run to the balcony to scream for help. Nel presented Pistorius with a photo of the bedroom. “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked.
There was an awkward silence as Pistorius examined the photo, which showed a large tripod fan in front of the door.
“The fan would have blocked me from running out onto the balcony,” he said softly.
“I agree,” Nel shot back. “Because your version was a lie.”
Pistorius was confronted with several more inconsistencies during his testimony. After he stated that he thought he had seen Steenkamp in the bed before getting up, the prosecution asked how that was possible.
“The room was pitch black,” said Nel. “You couldn’t see a thing.”
Later, Pistorius testified that Steenkamp had last eaten at 7 p.m., more than eight hours before the shooting. An autopsy showed that she had eaten just two or three hours before her death. Pistorius then conceded that she might have gone downstairs and eaten while he was sleeping.
“By your own account, the burglar alarm was on,” said Nel. “It would have been triggered by her leaving the room. Your inconsistencies are devastating.”
A Bittersweet Valentine
The defense had one positive note as Pistorius wrapped up his harrowing week on the stand. After Nel contended that none of the text messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp included the phrase, “I love you,” Pistorius’s defense lawyers handed him a Valentine’s Day card that Steenkamp had written.
Pistorius read it aloud with a clear, loud voice. “Roses are red, violets are blue. I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you.”
Pistorius Describes Shooting Steenkamp, Says He Was Besotted With Her