Pistorius refuses to stare at photo of dead Reeva

GERALD IMRAY AND CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
Last updated 09:45 10/04/2014
Reuters

Dramatic cross-examination includes Pistorius video on a shooting range and gruesome photo of Reeva Steenkamp's head wound. Image has been blurred. Mana Rabiee reports.

oscar
SIPHIWE SIBEKO / Reuters
ON TRIAL: Oscar Pistorius arrives at court Wednesday.
Pistorius
Reuters
ON THE ATTACK: State prosecutor Gerrie Nel gestures as he cross-examines South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

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A shaken Oscar Pistorius has refused to look at a gruesome photo of his slain girlfriend's bloodied head, telling a prosecutor through tears, "I don't have to look at a picture. I was there".

"It's time that you look at it," chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said during a fierce first day of cross-examination on Wednesday (local time) in which he doggedly pressed the double-amputee Olympian to "take responsibility" for killing Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder in the Valentine's Day 2013 shooting of Steenkamp, who was hit three times - in the head, arm and hip - as she cowered behind a locked toilet door. Pistorius says he shot the 29-year-old model and law school graduate by mistake, thinking she was a dangerous intruder.

Gasps could be heard in the courtroom from spectators, including the dead woman's mother, June, when the police photo suddenly appeared on multiple TV screens showing Steenkamp's head turned to the side, her blonde hair drenched in blood and a mass of tissue on the back and upper parts of her skull, her eyes closed.

Pistorius turned away and refused to look at the image, even as the prosecutor insisted he do so and face up to what he did.

"I will not look at a picture where I'm tormented by what I saw and felt that night," Pistorius said, becoming distraught and breaking into sobs. "As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head. I remember. I don't have to look at a picture. I was there."

Wednesday's heated questioning began with the showing of a video, first broadcast on Sky News, of the star athlete firing a gun at a watermelon at a shooting range. Pistorius can be heard saying the melon was "softer than brains" as it exploded when the bullet hit, and calling the powerful .50-calibre handgun he was using a "zombie stopper".

"You know the same happened to Reeva's head," Nel told Pistorius. "It exploded."

"You killed her. You shot and killed her," the prosecutor said. "Take responsibility for what you've done, Mr Pistorius."

Defence lawyer Barry Roux objected to the showing of the gun video, saying it was inadmissible character evidence and amounted to a legal "ambush" by the prosecution.

Nel also attempted to poke holes in Pistorius' version of the fatal night, including his reversal of a claim in court documents a year ago that he went out onto a balcony at his home before the shooting. The runner now says he went to the edge of the balcony but did not step outside. The discrepancy could be significant because Pistorius says a noise in the bathroom alerted him to a possible intruder, which would have been harder to hear if he were outside.

Nel tried to pin Pistorius down on whether he meant to fire into the toilet door at a perceived intruder. Pistorius said he didn't intend to shoot "anyone" and that he fired "before thinking" because he thought his life was in danger.

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This prompted Nel to accuse him of weighing the legal implications of the question before answering.

Pistorius said he was merely trying to be careful with his answers because the stakes are high.

"My life is on the line," he said, to which Nel retorted: "Reeva doesn't have a life any more, because of what you've done."

Attempting to dismantle a sympathetic image of Pistorius the defence sought to create during three days of testimony, Nel pressed the athlete to explicitly acknowledge that he killed Steenkamp.

"I made a mistake," Pistorius said.

"What was your mistake?" Nel shot back.

"I took Reeva's life," Pistorius said.

Nel also questioned the defence's portrayal of Pistorius as a good role model. The prosecution depicts him as an angry hothead with a gun obsession.

The prosecutor asked Pistorius if people looked up to him as a sporting hero, if he would hide anything and if he lived by Christian principles.

"I'm here to tell the truth, I'm here to tell the truth as much as I can remember," said Pistorius, who faces a possible prison term of 25 years to life if convicted of premeditated murder.

"I'm human. I have sins," he added.

NEL'S KEY POINTS:

INTENTIONAL OR MISTAKE

Nel began dramatically by urging Pistorius to face up to his actions and to look at a grisly police photo of Steenkamp's head and the wounds caused by the Olympian's shooting.

"Take responsibility for what you've done, Mr Pistorius," Nel said, telling the athlete to look at the graphic photo, which caused a stir in court. Pistorius refused to.

Later, Nel pressed Pistorius on his mindset and intentions when he fired four times through a door into a toilet cubicle where Steenkamp was, asking him to say that he'd fired purposely at a person. Pistorius referred to the shooting as "a mistake" and "accidental" and repeated his claim that he believed an intruder was about to come out of the cubicle and attack him.

"You never purposely fired shots into the door?" Nel asked as he tried to establish Pistorius intended to kill. "I'm not denying that I shot at the door," Pistorius said, but added that he "never intended to kill anyone".

THE FANS

Nel pounced on inconsistencies in Pistorius' story about how many fans he said he brought inside in the pre-dawn hours when he heard a noise in the bathroom that made him believe there was an intruder. In his first court affidavit last year, Pistorius said there was one. Now he says there were two fans. Also, Nel showed a photo of a row of plug sockets where Pistorius said one of the fans was plugged in. There was no space for the plug. Pistorius suggested it wasn't important and Nel responded: "It's not insignificant, Mr Pistorius. It will show that you are lying."

ON THE BALCONY?

In his bail hearing statement in February last year, Pistorius said he went out "onto the balcony" to bring the fans in on the night of the shooting. Nel noted Pistorius' story now was that he remained inside his bedroom and only went to the edge where the balcony meets with the room to bring the fans in. Nel suggested that Pistorius wouldn't have been able to hear a noise in his bathroom from out on the balcony and therefore changed the detail to suit his story.

PISTORIUS' CHARACTER

Through three days of defence-led testimony from Pistorius, he painted an image of himself as a committed athlete and religious man who sometimes felt fearful and vulnerable to crime and was therefore extra-careful. Nel immediately attacked that image and was granted permission by the judge to show a video where Pistorius was shown shooting a watermelon at a gun range with a powerful handgun and then saying, after howls of laughter from people with him, that the gun was a "zombie stopper" and the watermelon was "softer than brains". Nel said Steenkamp's head "exploded" just like the watermelon.

HIS TESTIMONY SCRIPTED?

Nel repeatedly said that Pistorius had some of his answers pre-planned and ready, and wasn't answering the specific questions the prosecutor was asking. Nel also asked the runner if his overall account was from his own memory or a "reconstruction" with the help of lawyers.

"You've got long arguments, long answers," Nel said to Pistorius, suggesting his testimony was overly-coached by his legal team.

"I can't change the truth," Pistorius responded.

- AP

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