Oscar Pistorius was accused of “lying” in evidence to his murder trial Wednesday and rehearsing his answers as he underwent a sustained and exhaustive cross-examination by the prosecution.
In a testy exchange with state lawyer Gerrie Nel, the sprinter was repeatedly asked about discrepancies between statements to the trial and earlier statements to police and at his bail hearing.
Nel complained that the athlete was restating his defense rather than answering questions about the events on the night he fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
“You're thinking of the implication of the answer,” he said. “Don’t think of the implications for you, Mr. Pistorius.”
“My life is on the line,” the Olympic runner said.
Reeva “doesn’t have a life any more,” Nel retorted. “Did your gun go off accidentally, yes or no?”
“My firearm was in my possession. I had my finger on the trigger. It was an accident what happened,” the athlete said. “I fired my firearm before I could think. When I fired my firearm I believed that someone was coming out of the toilet. It’s not just a physical accident. What I’m saying is that, at the time, I didn’t know what to think. I fired into the toilet door I believed someone was coming out.”
Nel asked: “Is the implication of your answer bothering you?”
“I didn’t intend to shoot at anyone,” Pistorius replied.
On Tuesday, Pistorius told the court he had fired at the toilet because he thought somebody was inside. "I heard a noise from inside the toilet, what I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet,” he said. “Before I knew it, I fired four shots at the door."
Earlier Wednesday, Nel asked a string of detailed questions about the scene of the killing, which the defense is expected to argue was contaminated by police blunders.
Nel often expressed frustration at the athlete’s responses, in one case saying: “You’ve rehearsed that answer. You’ve got long answers, it’s not good for you.” In another exchange, Nel said: “You did not answer my question. You’re not listening.”
Pistorius said police had tampered with the scene of the killing. “There were many things that moved,” he said. “My cellphones had moved. My firearm had moved. The curtains had moved. I saw police go up and down the stairs.”
“It exploded. It had the exact same effect. It’s time that you looked at it. Take responsibility.”
Pistorius said a police photograph taken of the killing scene showed a police officer unplugging one of the bedroom fans in order to plug in his cellphone, yet officers had said in their statements that the fans had been found switched off. “The fans were running. It was an extremely warm evening,” Pistorius said. “I’d say they were tampered with.”
Nel then asked about the exact position of the electric fans in athlete’s upstairs bedroom, whether they had been switched off by police officers and which sockets they had been plugged into. What Pistorius claimed about the position of the fans and the sockets could not be correct, Nel said, showing the court photographs of the scene.
As Pistorius struggled to account for variations in his answers, Nel said that the detail was “not so insignificant,” adding: “It will show that you are lying.”
“I’m under a lot of pressure sitting here,” the athlete said.
Earlier, gasps of distress echoed around the courtroom as prosecutors demanded the Olympian look at a picture of the injuries his bullets left in Reeva Steenkamp’s head.
At the start of a blistering cross-examination, Nel showed the court a video of the double-amputee athlete blowing up a watermelon at a gun range to the sound of laughter - a legal move that took his defense team by surprise.
“You know that the same thing happened to Reeva’s head,” the prosecutor told Pistorius as the court was shown a horrific picture of Steenkamp's bullet-wounded head. “It exploded. It had the exact same effect. It’s time that you looked at it. Take responsibility.”
Earlier Pistorius testified that he dragged Steenkamp downstairs after the shooting and waited for the ambulance to arrive, aware that there was nothing he could do to save her. "I felt helpless. I had my fingers in her mouth to help her breathe," he said.
Pistorius is accused of premeditated murder. He says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder but prosecutors allege that he killed her intentionally.
The case continues.