4 Facts Oscar Pistorius' Defense & Prosecution Are Trying Their Best To Prove
On Friday, the Oscar Pistorius trial saw defense witnesses relay information they believe will exonerate the Blade Runner (at least, to the extent that Reeva Steenkamp's tragic death was accidental). Pistorius' defense team, headed by Barry Roux, introduced one of their strongest witnesses — Tom Wolmarans, one of the most well-respected ballistics experts in South Africa. His testimony, along with the those of previous witnesses, will be used by the defense to argue that Pistorius was acting in self-defense when he fired the fatal shots last Valentine's Day.
Conversely, Gerrie Nel and his pack of prosecutors will be aiming for a premeditated murder charge, which would suggest that Pistorius not only killed Steenkamp intentionally, but had planned to do so. Over the course of the past several months, the dramatic trial has grown increasingly confusing, and the facts of the case have become a bit muddled for everyone. Here's a guide to the main sticking points of both defense and prosecution...
1. Defense: Steenkamp was not in a defensive position when she was shot
We'll start with the latest testimony. On Friday, Wolmarans claimed in court that Steenkamp wasn't attempting to protect herself when Pistorius fired four shots through a locked bathroom door. Said Wolmarans: "The left hand cannot have been against her head," because experts found neither brain tissue nor injuries on her hand. Wolmarans stepped into the courtroom's model of Pistorius' bathroom to demonstrate his version of Steenkamp's position in her final moments, saying that the prosecution's account of events did "not make sense."
Wolmaran's testimony casts doubt upon a key part of the prosecution's argument. If Steenkamp were cowering and in a defensive position, it would suggest that she was afraid of Pistorius and perhaps even anticipating his violence. However, Wolmaran's analysis of the crime scene did not lead him to such a conclusion, and given his significant status in the South African forensics field, his testimony may carry substantial weight. That being said, Wolmaran did recognize the relative futility in attempting to recreate the events of Feb. 14, 2013, saying,
Another expert may come and have a different opinion. You can come to a certain conclusion but it’s all speculation as to what happened behind that door.
2. Prosecution: Pistorius has a history of violence and possessive behavior
One of the prosecution's main arguments rests on Pistorius' volatile nature, which led to an unstable relationship with Steenkamp in which the model often felt frightened. Gerrie Nel has read several text messages from Steenkamp in court that reflect her unease with Pistorius. In one, she wrote, "You have picked on me incessantly since we got back from Cape Town." In another, she says, "I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you act at me." And in one of the most damning messages, she told Pistorius, "I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating u AND be attacked by you, the one person I deserve protection from."
These texts shed light on the more insidious part of the Steenkamp-Pistorius relationship, and according to the prosecution, makes Steenkamp's death seem like less of an accident. Moreover, there have been numerous reports about Pistorius' often unpredictable and violent temper. In the 2012 Paralympic Games, Pistorius lashed out at gold medalist Alan Oliveria when he beat Pistorius in the 200 meter race. He also allegedly threatened to break a television producer's legs after a supposed tryst between the producer and a former girlfriend. With these traits, the prosecution argues, killing Steenkamp would not be so out of character.
3. Defense: Pistorius was deeply in love with Steenkamp
According to one defense witness, Michael Nhlengethwa, who described himself as Pistorius' "closest neighbor," Pistorius was completely enamored of Steenkamp, and even introduced her as his fiancee. According to Nhlengethwa, shortly before Steenkamp's death, Pistorius took his girlfriend to see his neighbor, saying "Please meet my fiancée, Reeva."
Other defense witnesses have supported these claims, with the first two individuals on the scene reporting a similarly loving relationship between the two. Johan Stander and Carice Stander Viljoen testified on Monday that Pistorius was heartbroken when he discovered he had shot his girlfriend, and not an intruder. Pistorius was described as "praying, crying, torn apart," and clearly distraught by what he had done. Stander was adamant that Pistorius was committed to saving Steenkamp's life, which the defense hopes will show that her death was indeed an accident.
4. Prosecution: Neighbors heard an argument and the terrified screaming of a woman
The screams heard by the neighbors have been hotly contested by both sides, with the prosecution insisting that the screams came from Steenkamp, and the defense arguing that they were the screams of a terrified Pistorius. The prosecution believes, however, that Pistorius and Steenkamp were in a heated argument before Pistorius shot her dead. The screams neighbors heard, the prosecution alleges, were those of a terrified woman in the last moments of her life.
Michell Burger, who testified on the very first day of the trial, said that she and her husband were awakened by the sounds of "bloodcurdling screams" from a woman. Said Burger,
I heard her screams again, it was worse, it was more intense. Just after her screams, I heard four shots, it was four gunshots that I heard.
When asked about the successiveness of the shots, she remembered hearing a short pause between the first two shots, and then a longer pause between the final shots. Afterwards, Burger said, she could hear a man screaming for help. How Pistorius could not have heard the woman's screams, however, Burger and the prosecution says, is beyond them. Before learning that it was Steenkamp who had been shot, Burger said that she believed that a “woman was being attacked, she and her husband were being attacked in their house."