PRETORIA – Oscar Pistorius faced a second day of gruelling cross-examination in his murder trial on Thursday, as the prosecution accused him of caring more about himself than the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel kept tearing into the 27-year-old’s account of his relationship with Steenkamp, painting the star Paralympian sprinter as selfish and self-obsessed.
“It’s all about ‘I’. It’s all about Mr Pistorius,” Nel said, reading cell phone messages in which Steenkamp said she was upset and “scared” of Pistorius’s behavior.
Nel’s fierce questioning on Wednesday brought Pistorius to tears and drew angry retorts and on Thursday the prosecutor quickly renewed his line of attack.
“In an attempt to evaluate your relationship, we rely on what you say, it was the other person in this relationship that was killed by you,” he said bringing Pistorius to a tearful admission.
Nel also accused Pistorius of making a public apology to Steenkamp’s parents just to make himself feel better.
“Did you feel better after the apology?” Nel asked facetiously.
Aside from the fireworks, the double amputee sprinter is likely to face persistent questions about the minutiae of what happened on Valentine’s Day 2013, when he shot Steenkamp through a closed door in his flat in what prosecutors say was premeditated murder and Pistorius said was an accident.
Pistorius has blamed his lawyers for discrepancies between his accounts given at a bail hearing and in previous written testimony.
The state charges that Pistorius intentionally fired his gun at a closed bathroom door, knowing his model girlfriend was inside, after the couple argued.
But Pistorius says he fired the four shots that hit the 29-year-old law graduate, model and aspiring actress, thinking that she was an intruder coming out to attack him.
Prosecution lawyer Nel took a fierce tone from the start of his cross-examination on Wednesday, showing the court a graphic picture of the slain model’s head wounds with coagulated blood and brain matter.
“Have a look there, I know you don’t want to because you don’t want to take responsibility,” he said.
“I don’t want to look at a picture where I’m tormented by what I saw,” Pistorius replied wailing through tears.
After the session Steenkamp’s mother June said she wanted the Paralympian to see what he did to her daughter.
“He must see me there in the court, he must feel my eyes boring into him, I think it makes a lot of difference,” she said.
“It’s very traumatic when certain things come up. This is my child — and I must listen to the graphic detail,” she told Britain’s Daily Mirror. “I look at Oscar the whole time, to see how he is coping, how he is behaving. I’m obsessed with looking at him, it’s just instinctive, I can’t explain it.”
After sitting in court stoically, Steenkamp said she breaks down at the end of the day when she returns to her hotel.
“I keep it all in and when I get back to the hotel it all comes out and I break down.”
Pistorius’s cross-examination is a key point in his trial, and a stern test of both his version of events and of his resolve.
During the five-week trial the world-famous athlete has appeared fragile, frequently crying in court and becoming physically sick when the gruesome details of Steenkamp’s injuries were discussed.
In testimony on Wednesday Pistorius seemed in turn defiant and harrowed, refusing pleas to answer questions directly.
“My life is on the line… of course I think of every single word I say when I’m sitting here,” he said.
“But Reeva doesn’t have a life anymore. Because of what you’ve done, she’s not alive anymore,” Nel thundered back.
“So please listen to the questions and give us the truth, and not think of the implications for you.”
Pistorius is likely to remain on the stand for at least the rest of this week as his extensive testimony is probed and picked at by Nel, who once won a corruption conviction against a South African police commissioner.
Pistorius faces a life sentence if convicted of murder.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux is expected to call up to 15 more witnesses in the remainder of the case, to testify on ballistics, whether Steenkamp urinated, damage to the toilet door, sound, as well as Pistorius’s fear of crime and “vulnerability” on his stumps.
Eventually set down for three weeks, the trial could run until mid-May, possibly even longer.