By Siyabonga Sishi
Oscar Pistorius’ lawyers wrapped up their defence of the Olympic and Paralympic track star on Tuesday, bringing the dramatic murder trial of one of the world’s best-known athletes closer to conclusion.
Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned the court until August 7 to allow the legal teams to prepare closing arguments, due to take a day each. She will then begin her deliberations, extending a trial that has already dragged on over four months.
The case has captivated global audiences and had round-the-clock coverage in Pistorius’ native South Africa, making it arguably the most-watched celebrity murder trial since U.S. athlete O.J. Simpson was cleared of murdering his wife and her friend in 1995.
Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, could face life in prison if he is found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot and killed at his luxury Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year.
The 27-year-old athlete, known as “Blade Runner” because of the carbon-fibre prosthetic legs he uses, says he killed Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder hiding in the toilet next to his bedroom.
The state alleges he fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol in a fit of rage after an argument, killing the 29-year-old law graduate and model as she cowered behind the locked toilet door.
The killing has shattered the image of Pistorius as an embodiment of triumph over adversity for both his Paralympic victories and competition against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.
The track star broke down frequently during the trial, often sobbing and vomiting into a bucket.
The emotional displays were in marked contrast to his composed and confident demeanour as he re-enacted the shooting in a leaked video aired on Australian television on Sunday.
After the broadcast of the film, which Pistorius’ lawyers said was for trial preparation only and had been “obtained illegally” by Australia’s Channel 7, Masipa banned any airing or publication of the closing arguments before they are read in court.
There is no jury, and so the verdict hinges on whether Masipa believes Pistorius’ version of events. She was only the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge and has a reputation for handing down stiff sentences in crimes against women.
At the bail hearing over a year ago, magistrate Desmond Nair pointed to what he said were a number of “improbabilities” in Pistorius’ version.
“I have difficulty in appreciating why the accused would not seek to ascertain who exactly was in the toilet,” Nair said at the time. “I also have difficulty in appreciating why the deceased would not have screamed back from the toilet.”
The prosecution has attempted to portray Pistorius as self-centred, hot-tempered and obsessed with guns. Alongside the murder charge, he is also accused of three gun-related offences, all of which he has denied.
At one point during the trial, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, whose reputation as one of South Africa’s toughest attorneys has earned him the nickname “The Pitbull”, told Pistorius: “You will blame anybody but yourself.”
The defence has argued that Pistorius had an elevated sense of vulnerability due to his disability, compounded by fear of attack in crime-ridden South Africa.
It has also portrayed the relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp as a loving one, arguing the athlete has been devastated by the loss of his girlfriend.