By Mfuneko Toyana
Oscar Pistorius’ “primal instincts” kicked in when he shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp because he was in a vulnerable and fearful state, his defence lawyer said at the athlete’s murder trial on Friday.
Double amputee Pistorius, 27, once a national icon for reaching the pinnacle of sport, is accused of murdering Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, at his home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day last year.
The defence says Pistorius, nicknamed the ‘Blade Runner’ after the carbon-fibre prosthetic running legs he uses, shot Steenkamp through a locked toilet door believing she was an intruder.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel has spent the trial, which began in March, portraying Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hothead who deliberately shot Steenkamp, 29, four times through the door of the toilet, where she was taking refuge after an argument.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux said during his closing arguments that psychological evidence had proven the track star had a heightened fight response and naturally faces danger because of his disability.
“You’re standing at that door. You’re vulnerable. You’re anxious. You’re trained as an athlete to react. Take all those factors into account,” Roux said, adding that Pistorius had felt exposed because he was standing on the stumps of his legs.
“He stands with his finger on the trigger, ready to fire when ready. In some instances a person will fire reflexively,” he added. “That is your primal instinct.”
“SNOWBALL OF LIES”
Roux also argued that prosecutors had only called witnesses who supported their argument and not other key people, including police officers, who he said would have undermined their case.
On Thursday Nel said Pistorius had told “a snowball of lies” and had called on Judge Thokozile Masipa to convict the track star of intentional murder, a crime which could land him with a life sentence.
A potential lesser charge of culpable homicide – comparable to manslaughter – could carry a sentence of about 15 years.
To arrive at a verdict, Masipa and her two assistants will have to weigh up the credibility of testimony on both sides, including that of Pistorius, who endured more than a week of torrid cross-examination during which he broke down repeatedly.
In the absence of a jury, experts say the crux of the case is whether Masipa believes or rejects Pistorius’ version of events.
Masipa, only the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge in post-apartheid South Africa, has to analyse more than 4,000 pages of evidence and it could take several weeks for her to come to a final verdict.
Roux said the trial should only ever have been on the charge of culpable homicide, rather than murder, because he said Pistorius had clearly shot Steenkamp by mistake.
Steenkamp’s dramatic death has shattered the image of Pistorius as an embodiment of triumph over adversity for both his Paralympic victories and his success against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.