By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
PRETORIA, South Africa — Prosecutor Gerrie Nel launched an aggressive cross-examination Wednesday of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Nel pounced when Pistorius admitted that people around the world used to look up to him as a sporting hero until he “made a mistake.”
“You made a mistake? You killed a person. You killed Reeva Steenkamp, that’s what you did,” Nel barked. “You killed her. Won’t you take responsibility for that?”
Under the prosecutor’s tough approach, the athlete again broke down in tears, forcing another of many adjournments due to Pistorius’ fragile emotional state.
The defense condemned Nel’s line of questioning as an “ambush.”
At one point, Nel pressed Pistorius if knew what a “zombie stopper” was. The athlete denied any knowledge of the term. But, after legal argument, the court saw a video in which Pistorius at a shooting range fired a handgun at a watermelon, which exploded. He then said in the video, “It’s not as soft as brains,” then cursed and added, “but it’s a zombie stopper” to raucous cheering around him.
“You know that the same happened to Reeva’s head. It exploded,” Nel said aggressively, telling the athlete to take a look at a photograph of Steenkamp’s head after being shot. People in the public gallery gasped as the photograph was shown, and Pistorius again broke down, covering his face with his hands and saying the image would torment him.
Pistorius said he didn’t need to see the photo because he had been there. “As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head,” Pistorius said as he wept.
“It’s time that you look at it. Take responsibility for what you’ve done,” Nel said.
Defense attorney Barry Roux protested that the line of questioning comparing the exploding watermelon with Steenkamp’s head was unfair. Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed.
Steenkamp’s mother, June, had been warned the photograph would be shown and wanted him to see the picture, according to prosecutors.
Nel’s cross-examination foreshadowed more focus on Pistorius’ character to counter the athlete’s previous testimony in which he portrayed himself as a God-fearing Good Samaritan who rescued a puppy, helped charities, intervened to help assault victims under attack and was “besotted” with Steenkamp.
Nel also pointed out contradictions between Pistorius’ bail statement and his court testimony.
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming he shot Steenkamp under the belief that she was an intruder and that he and she were in danger. He fired four shots using expanding bullets through the toilet door, where Steenkamp had locked herself.
“I did not intend to kill Reeva or anybody else for that matter,” Pistorius told Pretoria’s High Court Wednesday.
Pistorius’ defense lawyer, Roux, sought to undermine a key part of the state’s case — five witnesses who testified they heard a woman scream the night of the shooting. Pistorius claims he was the only one who screamed. Some neighbors testified they heard a woman’s screams, mingled with a man shouting for help.
Roux listed several neighbors in close proximity to the Pistorius house who he said heard crying the night of the killing, but not female screams.
AFP Photo/Bongiwe Mchunu