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State: Pistorius fired to kill, at least guilty of murder

ESPN staff
February 21, 2013
Oscar Pistorius was overcome with emotion at times during Thursday's final arguments © AP

The bail hearing of Paralympic and South African icon Oscar Pistorius will continue into Friday after the final arguments of both the defence and prosecution were heard on Thursday, regarding the death of Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius is charged with the schedule six (premeditated) murder of girlfriend Steenkamp, an allegation strongly disputed by the defence, which claimed in its closing argument that no single piece of evidence disproves Pistorius' version of events. Indeed, the defence said Pistorius tried to save Steenkamp's life, having mistaken her for an intruder at his house in Pretoria.

To the contrary, the prosecution argued that Pistorius was guilty of the murder of a defenceless woman, for which he shows no realisation of his wrongdoing. It also claimed cast iron evidence surrounding the location of the gun, cartridges and two mobile phones would ruin the case of the defence.

After both arguments were heard, an adjournment was called, with the hearing to resume at 8am on Friday.

The morning had got off to a dramatic start with revelations that chief investigating officer Hilton Botha has his own attempted murder charge to answer in May. Reports emerged that Botha had been dropped from the Pistorius case entirely, something that was later confirmed at a police press conference.

Prior to the closing arguments, prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel addressed Wednesday's claim from the defence that Pistorius has no house in Italy, which would lower his status as a flight risk if granted bail. Nel produced a magazine article that featured the afore-mentioned house, quoting Pistorius who said he spends four months a year there, where it is "quiet and tranquil".

Defence final argument

The time then arrived for defence lawyer Barry Roux to make his final argument, insisting evidence does not point to a schedule six murder. Indeed, after pointing out that the prosecution's initial charge sheet listed it only as a murder (not premeditated), Roux claimed, "the evidence does not even show that the applicant committed a murder."

Roux continued: "The poor quality of the evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state's case." He then highlighted that the weak evidence was the "exceptional circumstance" needed to achieve bail for an individual accused of a schedule six murder.

Recapping some of his strongest arguments from the previous day, Roux pointed to the fact that Pistorius and Steenkamp went to bed together - evidence of a loving relationship. He also highlighted that Botha could not deny that Steenkamp's bladder was empty, suggesting she had got up to go to the toilet, not run away to hide from Pistorius.

Roux said that, had Pistorius wanted to kill Steenkamp, he could easily have murdered her when she was asleep in bed - not in a toilet. He accused Botha of being "extremely selective" and determined to "bolster the state's case", insisting every allegation against Pistorius does not support a charge of premeditated murder.

The defence spoke of Pistorius' desperate attempt to save Steenkamp by moving her downstairs and calling Netcare Hospital. It also answered the prosecution's question as to why a burglar would lock himself in a toilet, insisting evidence does not prove Pistorius knew the door was locked - in his eyes it was only closed.

Roux recapped the witness statement that was made from 600m or 300m away (highlighting Botha's indecisiveness), labelling it "too much of a leap" to include in Pistorius' case, and also reminded the court that Botha conceded the angle of the shots fired was consistent with Pistorius' version of events. Centralising his attack on Botha, Roux then insisted the officer attempted to provide evidence on matters in which he does not specialise (Ballistics) by claiming bullets were fired deliberately at the toilet. "He gave theories", argued Roux, who said it was the prosecution's intention to mislead based on "possibilities", whereas the defence was working on "probabilities".

Focusing on Steenkamp, Roux said nothing substantial could be read into the fact she was dressed - she could still have been going to the toilet - and only the [totally] empty bladder offers concrete evidence. The magistrate asked Roux if Steenkamp could have emptied her bladder due to trauma, something Roux confessed was a possibility. He also asked if Roux felt Steenkamp would have opened the door - upon hearing Pistorius' screams - and asked what was going on. Roux said she would have locked herself in for safety.

Closing the argument on the perception of Pistorius as a flight risk, Roux questioned the potential for such a well-known face to flee the country. He also said a midnight argument should not be confused for premeditated murder, and that no facts disprove the version of events given by Pistorius. Indeed, Roux claimed there was no motive for murder in a loving relationship, no reason to refute Pistorius' story, and therefore no reason to further incarcerate him by denying bail.

In response, magistrate Nair put forward the argument that Pistorius might try to influence witnesses if granted bail, reminding Roux that the 26-year-old tried to blame somebody else when he accidentally fired a gun in a restaurant. Nair also referred to a previous incident when Pistorius told a love rival, "I will f*ck you up".

Prosecution final argument

Following a brief adjournment for what the magistrate described as a "threat" outside the court, it was time for prosecuting lawyer Nel to state his final argument, which began by questioning what remained if the court accepted Pistorius' version of events that he did not know it was Steenkamp he was shooting. Nel answered his own question, saying: "The planned murder of an intruder". That would still remain premeditated murder, said Nel, who claimed no court would ever accept Pistorius acted out of self-defence.

Nel confidently predicted the location of the gun, three cartridges and two mobile phones - in the bathroom - will act as the "coup de gras" of the prosecution's case. "How did he get them there? Did he throw them?" asked Nel, before claiming objective facts support the state's case.

Nel put forward the suggestion that Pistorius and Steenkamp argued before she locked herself in the toilet. "Why would the deceased at 3am go to relieve herself, take her cellphone and place it on the mat?" he asked, at which point Pistorius cried in his seat.

The state then raised Pistorius as a flight risk, labelling him a man of means and reminding the court of the memory stick that he allegedly seemed desperate to recover. "We argue that the court should be concerned about the memory stick", Nel said, hinting at Pistorius' potential to use offshore accounts to flee the country.

Quoting Pistorius, Nel spoke of how the accused said he would stand trial "should there be one". "Oscar Pistorius seems to think he won't be charged, or go to jail for a long time," Nel said, claiming the athlete shows a lack of realisation of what he has done.

The state's argument continued by doubting Pistorius' concerns over death threats, insisting none are on file, before seriously questioning Pistorius' claim that he passed the bed twice without realising Steenkamp wasn't there. Nel asked why, when he went back to get his gun - which was next to the bed, didn't he say, "Reeva, Reeva, have you heard something? Did you hear a noise?"

Attacking the claim of self-defence, Nel said Pistorius created his own danger by storming the bathroom, claiming he was quick to arm himself and to kill. "Why did he shoot? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, did he fire to kill the intruder, not Reeva?" asked Nel, who highlighted that four shots were fired through a door. "He must, he must, have fired to kill," Nel said.

The prosecution concluded that, by Pistorius' own version of events, he is at the very least culpable of murder with indirect intent. And on that note, court was adjourned for the day.

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