The defence lawyer for Oscar Pistorius has criticised the way police handled the crime scene where Reeva Steenkamp was killed. During his closing arguments, Barry Roux told the court that there was "no respect" for the crime scene by investigators. Yesterday, the prosecution finished its closing arguments, accusing Pistorius of creating a "snowball of lies" in a bid to escape a murder conviction. Roux is due to finish his speech today. Judge Thokozile Masipa is then expected to adjourn the case for up to a month before delivering her final verdict. Pistorius faces up to 25 years in prison if he is found guilty of deliberately murdering his girlfriend Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. Here is what we have heard so far today:
2.15pm: Roux sums up his case, telling Judge Masipa: "If your finding is that [Pistorius's] actions were reasonable, you must acquit him." He says that if an intention to kill cannot be proved, a murder charge is impossible. Following a short break, prosecutor Gerrie Nel is given a chance to address a small number of legal issues. He maintains that Pistorius's two defences are "so mutually exclusive that they are mutually destructive". Judge Masipa thanks both teams and announces that she will give her verdict on 11 September.
1.30pm: Roux tackles the state's so-called "baker's dozen" of "significant incongruities" in Pistorius's case. One by one, Roux dismisses them as incorrect or inadmissible. For example, the prosecution accused Pistorius of having a poor memory. "He has severe depression. You cannot criticise him for that," says Roux. The defence lawyer peers over his glasses at the judge. "If that is a baker's dozen, then I don't want to eat those cookies," he says. Pistorius told the first people on the scene that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and his bail affidavit was written just days after the shooting. Why would he be so desperate to save her if he thought she would turn around and accuse him of deliberately shooting her, asks Roux. It is consistent with a "huge, unfortunate mistake", he says.
1.00pm: Roux casts doubt on the independence of two state witnesses, Michelle Burger and her husband Charl Johnson. Their statements were so similar that you need a magnifying glass to tell the difference, says Roux.
The defence lawyer also refers to evidence that suggests Pistorius and Steenkamp were happy together. He points to the loving WhatsApp messages in the week leading up to Steenkamp's death and the Valentine's Day card she had bought for Pistorius, in which she wrote: "Today is a good day to tell you that I love you." Roux also quotes from Professor Jonathan Scholtz's report, written after Pistorius's 30-day mental health evaluation, which found that the couple had a normal, loving relationship, with no evidence of violence or aggression. Roux says there was no motive for Pistorius to deliberately kill his girlfriend.
Noon: Steenkamp's mother June leaves the courtroom as Roux turns to the post-mortem. Pathologist Professor Gert Saayman told the court that the food found in Steenkamp's stomach suggested she had eaten around two hours before her death, which contradicts Pistorius's claim that they were both asleep at that time. But Roux says it is important to remember that Saayman said this was only a "probable" timeframe and could vary by an hour or two in either direction. Roux says there was a period of inactivity on Pistorius's iPad between 7.00pm and 8.00pm when he said they were having dinner. Would an athlete and a model really wait until 1.00am or wake up in the night to eat dinner as the state suggests, says Roux. He admits that Steenkamp might have gone downstairs for a snack unbeknown to the accused, but says it is a "probability, not beyond reasonable doubt" that she ate after 11.00pm.
11.30am: Roux turns to the issue of whether neighbours heard a man or a woman screaming on the night of the shooting. Several witnesses said they heard a woman, but the closest neighbours Michael and Eontle Nhlengethwa said the same screams came from a man. Roux restates the defence's case that the first noises heard by neighbours were gunshots, followed by the cricket bat hitting the door. Therefore, it could not have been Steenkamp screaming after the gunshots, says Roux, because she had been fatally wounded. He also recalls the evidence by acoustic expert Ivan Lin who said it was "unlikely" that a scream from Pistorius's toilet could be heard "audibly and intelligibly" from 170m away. This casts doubt on the testimony of one neighbour, Michelle Burger, who insisted that she heard a woman screaming for help. Lin suggested it would not be possible for her to have heard Steenkamp, who was in the toilet cubicle, or distinguish between a male and female from that far away.
10.50am: Roux is picking apart the testimony given by state witness Dr Johan Stipp, one of Pistorius's neighbours and one of the first people on the scene to administer first aid. His evidence regarding the chronology of events contradicts the other witnesses and objective facts, including phone records, says Roux. For example, Dr Stipp claimed he called security at 3.27am, but Roux says he was already at Pistorius's house at this time. "You cannot rely on him. You have to put a big question mark on his evidence," Roux tells the court.
10.10am: Roux begins giving a detailed timeline of what happened on the night of the shooting. He says the first shots were heard at around 3.12am. There was screaming between the first and second shots. Neighbours heard a cry of "help, help, help" around two minutes later and then at 3.17 there was a second set of noises, which Roux says was the sound of Pistorius using a cricket bat to bash down the toilet door. Security went past Pistorius's house at 2.20am and heard no arguing. Roux said this was "fatal for the state", which claims the couple were awake and arguing hours before Steenkamp was shot.
10.00am: Roux addresses Pistorius's other charges: two counts of discharging firearms in public and one count of illegal possession of ammunition. He concedes the court should find Pistorius guilty of negligently discharging a firearm in the Johannesburg restaurant Tashas. Pistorius also allegedly fired a gun through a car sunroof, while with his then girlfriend Samantha Taylor and friend Darren Fresco on 30 November 2012. Roux suggests that both witnesses are unreliable, with Taylor mistakenly believing that Pistorius had cheated on her and Fresco seeking indemnity because he was alleged to be an accomplice. The witnesses failed to agree on the time, place and motivation for the incident, he says. On the final charge, Roux says Pistorius was simply looking after his father's ammunition and did not even have a gun that could use the bullets. The defence lawyer adds that any convictions on these counts cannot be used to influence the verdict for Steenkamp's killing.
9.20am: Roux finally elaborates on Pistorius's legal defence. He denies that putative self-defence and involuntary action are mutually exclusive. The defence team is not denying that Pistorius armed himself, went towards the toilet and foresaw that it might be necessary to fire the shot, says Roux. The pull of the trigger, however, was "reflexive" – a reaction to a noise in the toilet, which Pistorius perceived to be an intruder coming out to attack him. Pistorius has an exaggerated fight response because of the "slow-burning" effect of his disability and his daily experience of not being able to run away from danger without his prosthetic legs, says Roux. If the judge believes Pistorius's reaction was purely reflexive, then the defence is involuntary action. If she believes that some form of thought process caused him to fire the shot, then it is putative self-defence, says Roux.
9.00am: Roux tells the court that there was "no respect" for the crime scene by investigators. He presents a photograph of one police officer touching a plug by the athlete's bed. The same officer told the court he had not touched anything in the room, says Roux. Pistorius faced intense questioning about the position of the plugs and two fans in his bedroom during cross-examination. The prosecution claimed as fact that an extension cord could not reach to where Pistorius claimed he had placed the fan, suggesting his version was a "lie". But Roux presents another photograph, possessed by the state but not shown in court, showing that the extension cord was longer than claimed. Roux says the cross-examination was therefore "extremely unfair".
Oscar Pistorius described as 'deceitful witness' 7 August
The final stages of the Oscar Pistorius trial are taking place today, with both the prosecution and defence teams giving their closing arguments in court. Judge Thokozile Masipa is then expected to adjourn the case for up to a month before delivering her final verdict. Pistorius faces up to 25 years in prison if he is found guilty of deliberately murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. Here is what we have heard so far today:
2.30pm: Defence lawyer Barry Roux begins his closing speech with a series of corrections to the prosecution's case. The defence is not claiming that the police "conspired" to tamper with the crime scene, says Roux, but it does have evidence to suggest that officers had touched or moved some objects. The prosecution cannot therefore accuse the defendant of lying based on the disturbance of the crime scene by police, he says. Roux also believes that the state should have called other investigating officers, such as Hilton Botha, as witnesses. Botha lied to incriminate the accused and was at the scene, says Roux, but he was not called to testify.
The defence lawyer makes several other technical corrections, but one of his main arguments is that the state has offered contradictory accounts of what happened on the night of the shooting. Prosecutors say Steenkamp and Pistorius might have been eating and arguing downstairs, but this contradicts their earlier claim that Steenkamp had left her jeans and the duvet on the bedroom floor and rushed to the bathroom as the couple fought in the bedroom. The state claims Steenkamp did not know she was about to be shot and was talking to Pistorius through the locked toilet door, but Roux says this does not fit with the claims of state witnesses who heard "blood-curdling screams".
Timelines of the shooting look set to take centre stage tomorrow, with Roux accusing the prosecution of "avoiding objective material facts".
2.00pm: Prosecutor Gerrie Nel tells the court why Pistorius should not escape a murder conviction. Even if the athlete believed Steenkamp was an intruder, he fired four shots into a small cubicle with the intention to kill a human being, says Nel. "Error in objective does not exclude intention." The prosecutor says there was "no reasonable event" that would have caused Pistorius to believe that an attack was imminent. It might have been different if the door had opened, but it did not, says Nel. Pistorius holds his head in his hands as Nel argues that the grouping of the shots suggests "pre-planning". He lists again the process Pistorius went through before shooting – finding his gun, un-holstering the firearm, walking five metres, disengaging the safety mechanism and maintaining a good grouping while firing. Disabled or not, Pistorius was armed and pointing his weapon to a door, behind which was an "unarmed, vulnerable woman", says Nel.
1.30pm: The WhatsApp messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius are discussed in court once again. Nel acknowledges that 90 per cent of the messages are loving but he says it is the other "ten per cent that count". He reads out a passage from Steenkamp in which she tells Pistorius "I am scared of you sometimes" and he says it is significant that unhappy messages were sent just weeks before the shooting. Judge Masipa makes one of her few interruptions of the day, asking Nel if the court can really rely on the WhatsApp messages. "Aren't relationships dynamic?" she says. "If you're unhappy today, it doesn't mean you won't be happy the next day." Nel insists that the messages show the couple were not without their problems and notes that "this relationship ended in death". He adds that the defence's version is that they were a loving couple "who spent a quiet evening together on the eve of Valentine's Day without even a suggestion of intimacy".
1.00pm: Nel turns to Pistorius's claim that he had fired the four shots in quick succession. The fact that he can recall this suggests he fired them consciously, says Nel. The prosecutor continues to argue that the state witnesses are credible. He notes that not every error made by the witnesses affects their credibility. For example, one witness thought he had heard more than four shots but the fact that he stuck to what he believed he heard shows he had not tailored his evidence to fit anyone else's account. Evidence from Steenkamp's post-mortem suggests that she might have eaten around two hours before she died. Nel says it cannot be a "mere coincidence" that a neighbour heard arguing at around the same time Steenkamp might have eaten.
Noon: Nel cites previous cases in which defendants have tried to use the "involuntary action" defence. He says it is not possible to consciously arm yourself, remove the gun's safety catch, take position and aim the weapon and then argue that you are momentarily not in control of your senses when you pull the trigger. Nel also denies claims that the state witnesses were not credible. He says that the neighbours who heard screams coming from Pistorius's house were independent and had not met the accused or deceased, yet their level of corroboration was "exceptional".
11.30am: Nel questions the probability of Pistorius's version of events. To even consider his defence, the court would have to accept that he and Steenkamp were both awake and had a conversation but then Steenkamp did not say another word as she went off to the bathroom, even when Pistorius was outside the toilet door shouting her name, says Nel. The prosecutor also questioned why Steenkamp would open a window in the bathroom before she went into the toilet cubicle and why she took her phone with her. Pistorius claimed he heard a magazine rack in the toilet being moved, which he perceived at the time to be the intruder coming out of the toilet. Nel says it is "improbable" that the magazine rack even moved.
11.00am: As the court resumes after a tea break, Judge Masipa tells the prosecution it is moving too slowly and that she is not available next week if they overrun. Nel assures her that he and the defence will get through the arguments before the end of tomorrow "by hook or by crook". Nel continues with his closing speech, telling the court that Pistorius told a "snowball of lies" that he was then forced to keep building on. He picks apart Pistorius's testimony in a bid to show that it cannot be "reasonably, possibly true". For example, the athlete claimed he had covered a blue LED light on his amplifier on the night of the shooting because it was bothering him, but also insisted it was too weak to illuminate anything in the room. Nel says this was an example of Pistorius "tailoring" his evidence to explain why he had his back to the bed at all times and did not, therefore, see that Steenkamp had left the bedroom.
10.00am: Nel says Pistorius was an "appalling witness", who was vague and argumentative, with his "mendacity" best shown in the way he remembered some events in huge detail and others with none at all. Nel says the most "devastating" aspect of the defence's case was its "inability and failure" to contest the condition of the crime scene. A photograph of the athlete's bedroom just after Steenkamp's death shows that a large fan is in the way of a balcony door that Pistorius claims he ran through to seek help. It also shows the duvet on the floor, which would have made it impossible for Pistorius to have mistakenly believed Steenkamp was in bed when he went to the bathroom with his gun. Yet, Nel says that the defence did not put it to the first police officer on the scene or the police photographer that they had moved the objects around.
9.30am: Prosecutor Gerrie Nel reads out quotes from Pistorius's testimony in which the athlete describes the exact moments he fired his gun. Pistorius told the court that he shot Reeva by "accident" and had no time to think before he fired. This suggests a defence of "involuntary action". But Nel says that on the night of the shooting, Pistorius did not tell any witnesses who came to his house that the shooting had been an accident. The Paralympian told them he shot Reeva and that he thought she was an intruder. Nel also picks out quotes from Pistorius in which the athlete explains his thought process just before he fired. Pistorius said he heard "movement" inside the toilet and that he "thought" an intruder might have broken in. The prosecutor suggests that Pistorius could not, therefore, have shot without thinking and that his own testimony points more towards putative self-defence.
9am: Nel begins his closing speech, describing Pistorius as a "deceitful witness" and saying that in essence his evidence was "absolutely devoid of any truth". He says the athlete's two defences – that he was not in control of his behaviour and that he acted in self-defence – are irreconcilable and the objective facts about the night of the shooting are "devastating" to his case. Nel accuses Pistorius of having "anxiety on call". He adds that the defence had told the court that it would call witnesses to prove that Pistorius screams "like a woman". But no such witnesses were called, he said.
What else can we expect as Nel and defence lawyer Barry Roux go head to head once more?
Prosecution: Gerrie Nel's closing arguments Nicknamed 'The Pit Bull',
Nel has subjected Pistorius and the defence witnesses to a series of gruelling cross-examinations. He is likely to use his closing argument to paint Pistorius as a gun-loving, egotistical, jealous boyfriend who would blame anyone but himself for his mistakes.
Nel will summarise the prosecution's case that Pistorius had a heated argument with Steenkamp before deliberately shooting her after she locked herself in the toilet. This contrasts with the athlete's claim that he mistook his girlfriend for a dangerous intruder. The prosecutor has previously told Pistorius that his version is "not only untruthful but it's so improbable that it cannot be reasonably, possibly true". The court can expect to be reminded of any inconsistencies in the defence's case, particularly in the athlete's own teary testimony.
To back up his case, Nel is likely to draw on the testimonies of state witnesses, including five neighbours who heard a woman screaming on the night Steenkamp was shot, a ballistics expert who claims she would have had time to scream before she died and a handful of WhatsApp messages that suggested she was "scared" of Pistorius.
Defence: Barry Roux's closing arguments
In contrast with Nel's case, Roux has sought to show Pistorius's life as marked by tragedy and a "profound fear of crime", from his mother's death and his double leg amputation to being followed home, burgled and shot at on a motorway.
Roux too will try to pick holes in the opposition's case. The seasoned courtroom performer has been compared to OJ Simpson's lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who famously secured the footballer a not guilty verdict. In the same way that Cochran challenged every piece of police department evidence to set his client free, Roux too has highlighted the police's shoddy handling of the case. One officer picked up Pistorius's weapon without gloves, another walked over the door Steenkamp was shot through and one of the athlete's watches went missing from the crime scene.
Over the course of the trial, Roux has often been seen leafing through his notes and casually sucking on his glasses as if uncertain of what to ask next – before going straight for the witness's jugular. Investigating officer Hilton Botha was left a sweating mess after a bail hearing and resigned shortly afterwards. Roux has worked hard to prove there is room for doubt in the testimonies of the state's witnesses – and it is "reasonable doubt" that Judge Masipa needs in order to deliver a not guilty verdict for premeditated murder.
Oscar Pistorius: what is his defence and can it succeed? 5 August
Both sides in the Oscar Pistorius trial agree that he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times though a toilet door. She was killed with expanding bullets, designed to cause maximum tissue damage, which hit her in the head, hip and elbow on Valentine's Day last year. So how can Pistorius avoid jail?
His defence appears to have changed over the course of the trial. Defence lawyers told reporters yesterday that they had filed their closing arguments to the High Court in Pretoria and "are ready" for the final showdown with the prosecution later this week. The state claims Pistorius knew Steenkamp was behind the toilet door and shot her with the intention to kill following an argument. The athlete says he mistook her for a dangerous intruder. But under South African law, firing with intent to kill can be ruled as murder even if the defendant was mistaken about his target. Here are the defence options aired so far...
At the start of the trial, it appeared Pistorius would argue "putative self-defence". He cannot use the basic self-defence principle because there was no actual threat to his life. Putative self-defence means the accused genuinely believed their life was under threat and used "reasonable means" to protect themselves. Defence lawyer Barry Roux has sought to show that Pistorius was vulnerable due to his disability and had previously fallen victim to violent crime. Pistorius told the court he was "extremely fearful, overcome with a sense of terror and vulnerability" in the moments before he fired the gun. But one piece of evidence that might damage this defence is Pistorius's written gun competency test, taken in 2012 so he could obtain a licence. The athlete explains, in his own handwriting, when a gun owner is allowed to use lethal force against an intruder. "Attack must be against you. Must be unlawful. Must be against person," he wrote. "Know your target, and what lies beyond."
Involuntary action As Pistorius later gave evidence in court, his defence appeared to change from "putative self-defence" to "involuntary action", where the accused's mind does not control his behaviour. Pistorius told the court he was so terrified that he unconsciously pulled the trigger. "I didn't have time to think, I discharged my firearm," he said. For putative self-defence to apply, Pistorius would have to have intended to shoot the intruder, but in his evidence he said he did not. "I didn't intend to fire but I fired. I pulled the trigger. My firearm was pointing to where I perceived the danger to be," he said. While this suggests Roux might argue involuntary action, legal experts say this defence is normally saved for cases such as sleep-walking or epileptic seizures. South African law also recognises "temporary non-pathological incapacity", akin to temporary insanity, where a killer is so overwhelmed with emotion that they briefly lose control. Roux might argue that Pistorius was so overwhelmed with terror that he involuntarily fired his gun.
Pathological incapacity When defence witness Dr Merryll Vorster told the court that Pistorius suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, prosecutor Gerrie Nel suggested the athlete's legal team was pursuing a "third defence". Roux insisted he only wanted the information to be "taken into account" by the court, but Pistorius was sent for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation so the judge could be certain about his mental state. Any chance of Pistorius using pathological incapacity as a defence appeared to evaporate when the results came in. "Mr Pistorus did not suffer from a mental illness or defect that would have rendered him criminally not responsible for the offence charged," said the report.