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Oscar trial: Nel accuses Pistorius of faking tears

Emsie Ferreira

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has accused Oscar Pistorius of faking emotional distress while being cross-examined about shooting Reeva Steenkamp.

Oscar Pistorius. (AFP)

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused Oscar Pistorius on Monday of faking emotional distress on the witness stand. He contended this was happening because Pistorius knew his version of why he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp did not hold water. 

As the disabled Olympic athlete broke down under cross-examination in the high court in Pretoria, Nel asked point-blank: "Mr Pistorius you are not using your emotional state as an escape, are you?"

Pistorius, who risks a life sentence for premeditated murder, protested that he had become emotional because he was recalling a traumatic event.

In his fourth day of facing questions from Nel, Pistorius insisted he had not intended to fire his 9mm pistol when he sent four shots into a locked toilet door in his house on Valentine's Day last year, fatally wounding the 29-year-old Steenkamp.

Pistorius said his arm had not been extended, but bent when he pulled the trigger, adding: "I didn't intend to fire, but I fired. I fired my firearm out of fear, by accident."

Nel said this response constituted two legal defences and reminded Pistorius that he was only entitled to one. "Your defence has now changed, Sir, from putative self-defence to involuntary action," Nel stated incredulously, before asking whether Pistorius would at least concede that he had aimed his firearm at the door because he believed danger to lurk behind it.

Pistorius replied that he had not. "So it was just luck that the gun was pointed at the door?" the prosecutor asked.

Pistorius retorted: "It wasn't luck. She lost her life."

He has told the court he was alarmed by the sound of a bathroom window being slid open and rushed to confront a suspected intruder, but Nel contends that he deliberately shot Steenkamp after a row.

Wailed and retched
Pistorius has testified that he has been on tranquillisers for the past year, and has wailed in torment and retched at several points in the six-week-old trial as he listening to descriptions of Steenkamp's injuries. 

On Monday, he was frequently reduced to tears by Nel whose scathing manner drew several reprimands from Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Pistorius wept as Nel pressed him to recall the exact words he used to order the intruder from his home before firing the shots that hit Steenkamp in the hip, arm and head. After a long pause, the athlete cried: "I said 'Get the fuck out of my house, get the fuck out of my house'."

Masipa adjourned court and when it resumed Nel returned to the point and suggested Pistorius had snapped because he had in fact directed that phrase at Steenkamp after they had argued violently.

"Is that what you had shouted at Reeva?" asked the prosecutor.

Soon afterwards, Pistorius again broke down when Nel alleged he knew he was aiming at Steenkamp and had in fact adjusted his aim when he heard a wooden magazine rack move, betraying her position behind the door.

"I did not fire at Reeva [Steenkamp]," the accused sobbed, again prompting an adjournment.

Main argument
As Nel began his questioning on Monday, he warned Pistorius that his main argument for the day would be that he was tailoring his evidence to support an improbable version of events. The prosecutor repeatedly told Pistorius that he had strayed far from his evidence-in-chief on many points, including where he had placed the electric fan he said he had moved around the bed before hearing a suspicious noise. 

Initially Pistorius said he had placed it in front of a window, but he has changed his account to locate it at the foot of the bed.

Nel said the position of the fan, a pair of jeans and a blood-spattered duvet and a pair of flip-flops all contradicted his account. He zoomed in on Steenkamp's white flip-flops and asked why these were found on the left side of the bed when Pistorius testified that exceptionally he had slept on that side because of a shoulder injury.

And, Nel added, why were all her other clothes apart from these and the jeans packed into an overnight bag? When Pistorius could not provide an answer, Nel put it to him: "She wanted to leave ... and you shot her."

He ridiculed Pistorius's claim that he had realised he must have mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder immediately after discovering that she was not in bed. Why, he asked, did he not check whether she was hiding elsewhere and why did he continue to clutch his gun as if he might still be under threat from an intruder?

Pistorius said it was because he was still hoping that the burglar scenario was in fact true though feared it was not. When Nel scoffed, the judge intervened to support Pistorius's answer. "I don't think so, you may think one thing but hope another thing," she said.

The trial continues on Tuesday, with Pistorius due back on the stand. – Sapa

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