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Pistorius Trial

Pistorius Attorneys Get One Last Chance to Prove Their Case

Image: South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius looks on during his ongoing murder trial on July 8.

South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius looks on during his ongoing murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, on July 8, 2014. Pistorius stands trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. Lawyers defending Oscar Pistorius on charges of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp rested their case on July 8, allowing the court to set a date of August 7-8 for final arguments. ALON SKUY / Pool via AFP - Getty Images file

Over the last five months, South African Olympic track star Oscar Pistorius' past has slowly been put on display as ex-girlfriends, neighbors, and doctors testified about the iconic athlete.

Now the focus switches to Pistorius' future: whether he will go to prison or not. The man once regarded as an international sports hero admits fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013 in Pretoria, but insists he mistook her for an intruder. Attorneys will have their final chance to argue whether Pistorius intentionally killed the model and law student, or whether it was a horrible mistake.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel began delivering his closing arguments Thursday, followed by defense lawyer Barry Roux's closing arguments Friday.

Here's what will happen next, and trial highlights.

Closing arguments and verdict watch

After closing arguments and a round of replies wrap up on Friday, Judge Thokozile Masipa is expected to indicate when she will hand down her judgment. Experts say it's likely to come in about four to six weeks. Then, the judge will announce what Pistorius is guilty of, if anything, and sentence him at a later date.

If Pistorius is found guilty, and his attorneys want to appeal, they must wait until after the sentence to challenge both the sentence and the judgment itself, and then are given 14 days to issue their appeal.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to a charge of pre-meditated murder, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. If he's convicted of murder without the pre-meditation charge, he faces 15 years' imprisonment or less. If he is acquitted of murder but found guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, there's no minimum sentence.

Pistorius also faces a couple of firearms charges.

The defense's case

For the defense, the trial has been all about demonstrating that the double amputee felt vulnerable in crime-ridden South Africa, where burglaries are commonplace.

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Putting Pistorius on the stand: In April, Pistorius took the stand for two days of emotional testimony. It was the first time he had spoken publicly about the shooting. "I wasn't sure if someone was going to come out the toilet and attack me," he said. "Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door."

Putting a murder defendant on the stand is risky, and experts felt Pistorius' testimony benefited the prosecution more than the defense.

"They made a lot of headway in the cross-examination. If Oscar was a good witness, that would have made a marked difference in the case. He fired four shots in a small area. That could exceed the bounds of self-defense," said William Booth, a Cape Town attorney specializing in criminal law.

The last defense witness — a sports doctor — left a stronger impression, said Stephen Tuson, a professor of criminal procedure at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

“You’ve got a paradox of an individual who is supremely able, and you’ve got an individual who is significantly disabled,” Dr. Wayne Derman, who has worked with South African Olympians and Paralympians and has treated Pistorius over six years, testified on July 3.

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Derman "was very successful in getting into the head of the disabled person and how this could impact their decision-making processes when threatened," Tuson said. "Ordinary tasks during the day are jobs for the disabled person. Showering for a disabled person is an issue, because you have to use two hands to open the bottle of shampoo."

Partially re-enacting the fatal shooting: Defense attorneys had Pistorius change out of his suit into a T-shirt and shorts – similar to what he was wearing the night of the shooting – and walk up to the bullet-ridden bathroom door through which he shot Steenkamp, which had been in the courtroom as an exhibit. Defense lawyer Roux asked Pistorius to take off his prosthetic legs so he was standing on his stumps in front of the door.

Displaying Pistorius' disability in court showed "his willingness to strike first before someone gets close to him because he's at a tremendous disadvantage if he gets into any type of grappling match with an intruder," attorney Tom Mesereau, who has represented a range of high-profile clients, including Michael Jackson, said at the time.

Arguing that the crime scene was contaminated: DRoux told the court that police photos of the bloody scene where Pistorius shot Reeva indicated that evidence was moved. But, again, this didn't add much to his case, because there was never a debate over whether Pistorius was the one who fired the shots, the experts say.

"In another case, it might have made a huge difference," Booth said.

The prosecution's case

The prosecution has painted Pistorius as violent and temperamental, and maintains that he and Steenkamp got into an argument before he shot at her.

Steenkamp's outfit scrutinized: Pistorius claimed he believed his girlfriend was sleeping when he shot at what he thought was an intruder behind his bathroom door. But when Steenkamp was killed, she was wearing white shorts and a black shirt, evidence a spokesman for the national prosecution service said indicated "Reeva was probably running away and she locked herself in the bathroom."

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Bringing neighbors on the stand: State witness Michelle Burger, a neighbor in Pistorius' gated community, testified she heard screams for help, contradicting Pistorius' version of events, in which he didn't mention a woman screaming. (His lawyer suggested the scream actually came from Pistorius.)

"They started strong with the evidence of blood-curdling screams," Tuson said. "If the court accepts that it was a woman, then that's the end of the matter."

Reading texts: The prosecution went to great lengths to present Pistorius as ready to snap. One text from Steenkamp to him that was read in court said, "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me." To further their argument, the prosecution brought forward his ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who said Pistorius kept a gun with him "all the time" and recalled how he once fired a shot out of a car sunroof.

"They successfully portrayed him as a person of poor character who made unwise choices often. He didn't come across well," Tuson said.

The trial continues.

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