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Three days in, Pistorius prosecution remains opaque

Phillip De Wet

Three court days for the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius have passed, and the defence has shown its hand over again. The prosecution, not so much.

Oscar Pistorius's legal counsel seem to be laying all their cards on the table soon into the trial. (Reuters)

In a normal murder trial it would likely have been the other way around: by around this time, it would be clear where the prosecution was heading, with only hints of what defence would follow.

But, as with everything else in this trial – the amount of interest and coverage, the depth of expertise brought to bear, the sharply divided opinions – Oscar Pistorius's trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp is topsy-turvy. After three days in court and several witnesses, the defence has laid out its version of events while the prosecution holds back.

Murder is a difficult charge to make stick, thanks to the high bar courts set for evidence that there was intent behind a killing. According to official police statistics, the South African conviction rate for murder was better than 73% in the last reporting year, but once you factor in cases that never make it to court, the numbers plummet to low single digits.

Yet prosecutors have maintained, since not long after the February 14 2013 death of Reeva Steenkamp, that they have a compelling case for Pistorius to answer.

Revealing defence
Early testimony has offered only a glimpse of the allegations that could form such a case: a man enamoured of but irresponsible with guns, a couple who may have fought, and witnesses who could have heard enough to show that Pistorius must have known he was shooting at Steenkamp.

The meat of the allegation, it seems, will come from forensic evidence or compelling testimony of a different sort. Whatever makes prosecutors believe Pistorius should be convicted, it has not yet been shared with the high court in Pretoria.

While defence teams typically hold back as much as possible until a case has been made that needs be assailed, Pistorius's team has taken an entirely different path from the outset. Pistorius offered a detailed account of events on the night in his bail application in 2013. He offered even more detail in explaining his not-guilty plea this week, going so far as to make it clear he intends to testify, a decision normally made later in proceedings. And in questioning witnesses called by the state, defence advocate Barry Roux has sought to put forward Pistorius's version of events almost as often as interrogating that of witnesses.

Pistorius, we now know, will submit that while some witnesses believe they heard gunshots, they actually heard the sound of a cricket bat breaking down a door. While some witnesses believe they heard a woman screaming, Pistorius's team will argue, they actually heard Pistorius himself in such a state of shock that his voice was pitched high. While some believe the couple had had previous arguments, the defence will say they were actually in a loving relationship.

And while some believe Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp, Pistorius will argue it was a tragic accident devoid of the intent required for a murder conviction.


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