Oscar Pistorius: what did we learn from closing arguments?

Oscar Pistorius on trial in Pretoria

Judge Masipa will deliver Oscar Pistorius verdict on 11 September after defence and prosecution wrap up case

LAST UPDATED AT 13:48 ON Mon 11 Aug 2014

Oscar Pistorius will discover his fate on 11 September following a long, dramatic case that has dominated headlines since his arrest on Valentine's Day last year. The prosecution and defence wrapped up their final arguments last week, giving Judge Thokozile Masipa five weeks to make her judgment. If found guilty of deliberately killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius could face 25 years in prison.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel used metaphor on top of metaphor to paint Pistorius as a "deceitful witness". The athlete "dropped the baton of truth" and told a "snowball of lies", Nel told the court, while defence lawyer Barry Roux repeatedly directed Masipa to put herself into the shoes of Pistorius. With knowledge of the judge's tough stance on domestic abusers, Roux even attempted at one point to compare Pistorius's situation to that of an abused woman.

Here are five things we learned from the closing speeches: 

Pistorius has two defences

During the trial Pistorius appeared to change his defence from "putative self-defence", taking reasonable means to defend himself against a genuinely held fear of attack, to "involuntary action", where his mind does not control his behaviour. In his closing speech, Roux confirmed that he was arguing both defences. Pistorius pulled the trigger "reflexively", without thinking, says Roux. But if Masipa cannot accept that, she should see it as putative self-defence, he said. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel balked at the idea of using both defences. They are "so mutually exclusive that they are mutually destructive", he said.

Pistorius admits guilt on one firearms charge

As well as the murder charge, Pistorius faces three other firearms charges. He denies firing a gun out of the sunroof of a car, accusing the other witnesses of inconsistent testimonies with motives to lie. He also denies illegally possessing ammunition. But on Friday, Roux conceded that the court should find Pistorius guilty of negligently discharging a firearm in the Johannesburg restaurant Tashas. In the Daily Telegraph, Professor James Grant, a criminal law specialist, said the introduction of these three charges was a "cleverly constructed trap that Pistorius fell into by pleading not guilty". It has allowed the state to introduce bad character evidence that would normally be inadmissible, he said.

Police did touch objects at the crime scene

During his closing speech, Roux introduced a photograph that had previously not been shown in court. It showed a police officer – who had specifically told the court he had not touched anything at the crime scene – touching a plug in Pistorius's bedroom. Roux also accused investigator Hilton Botha of telling "blatant lies" to incriminate his client and questioned why he was not called as a state witness. Roux told the court there was "no respect" for the crime scene by investigators, making it difficult for Judge Masipa to convict Pistorius purely based on the evidence provided by police.

Several witnesses 'unreliable'

Both lawyers attacked the reliability of certain witnesses. Nel picked apart Pistorius's testimony and accused other defence witnesses of showing bias. Roux demonstrated that one of Pistorius's neighbours, state witness Dr Johan Stipp, gave an incorrect account. Both lawyers praised the testimony of pathologist Professor Gert Saayman, but they disagreed on how it should be interpreted. After the couple's WhatsApp messages were used as evidence by both sides, the judge questioned whether she should bother taking them into account at all. As the BBC's Andrew Harding suggests, the disputed claims of experts and neighbours have "cancelled each other out", leaving the judicial spotlight firmly on Pistorius's state of mind as he pulled the trigger.

Did Pistorius act reasonably?

Ultimately, Masipa will have to decide what Pistorius was thinking and whether he acted in a "reasonable" way on the night of the shooting. "Even in the event of the court accepting the accused's version, he cannot escape a verdict of murder," said Nel. "If you fire four shots into a small cubicle with Black Talon ammunition you see the possibility that you will kill somebody." But the defence insists that Pistorius acted reasonably, especially for a man who was vulnerable without his legs, fearful of violent crime and with a propensity to choose fight over flight because of his inability to run away. "If your finding is that his actions were reasonable, you must acquit him," said Roux.


Oscar Pistorius trial: police had 'no respect' for crime scene

8 August

The defence lawyer for Oscar Pistorius has criticised the way police handled the crime scene where Reeva Steenkamp was killed. During his closing arguments, Barry Roux told the court that there was "no respect" for the crime scene by investigators. Yesterday, the prosecution finished its closing arguments, accusing Pistorius of creating a "snowball of lies" in a bid to escape a murder conviction. Roux is due to finish his speech today. Judge Thokozile Masipa is then expected to adjourn the case for up to a month before delivering her final verdict. Pistorius faces up to 25 years in prison if he is found guilty of deliberately murdering his girlfriend Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. Here is what we have heard so far today:

2.15pm: Roux sums up his case, telling Judge Masipa: "If your finding is that [Pistorius's] actions were reasonable, you must acquit him." He says that if an intention to kill cannot be proved, a murder charge is impossible. Following a short break, prosecutor Gerrie Nel is given a chance to address a small number of legal issues. He maintains that Pistorius's two defences are "so mutually exclusive that they are mutually destructive". Judge Masipa thanks both teams and announces that she will give her verdict on 11 September.

1.30pm: Roux tackles the state's so-called "baker's dozen" of "significant incongruities" in Pistorius's case. One by one, Roux dismisses them as incorrect or inadmissible. For example, the prosecution accused Pistorius of having a poor memory. "He has severe depression. You cannot criticise him for that," says Roux. The defence lawyer peers over his glasses at the judge. "If that is a baker's dozen, then I don't want to eat those cookies," he says. Pistorius told the first people on the scene that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and his bail affidavit was written just days after the shooting. Why would he be so desperate to save her if he thought she would turn around and accuse him of deliberately shooting her, asks Roux. It is consistent with a "huge, unfortunate mistake", he says. 

1.00pm: Roux casts doubt on the independence of two state witnesses, Michelle Burger and her husband Charl Johnson. Their statements were so similar that you need a magnifying glass to tell the difference, says Roux.

The defence lawyer also refers to evidence that suggests Pistorius and Steenkamp were happy together. He points to the loving WhatsApp messages in the week leading up to Steenkamp's death and the Valentine's Day card she had bought for Pistorius, in which she wrote: "Today is a good day to tell you that I love you." Roux also quotes from Professor Jonathan Scholtz's report, written after Pistorius's 30-day mental health evaluation, which found that the couple had a normal, loving relationship, with no evidence of violence or aggression. Roux says there was no motive for Pistorius to deliberately kill his girlfriend.

Noon: Steenkamp's mother June leaves the courtroom as Roux turns to the post-mortem. Pathologist Professor Gert Saayman told the court that the food found in Steenkamp's stomach suggested she had eaten around two hours before her death, which contradicts Pistorius's claim that they were both asleep at that time. But Roux says it is important to remember that Saayman said this was only a "probable" timeframe and could vary by an hour or two in either direction. Roux says there was a period of inactivity on Pistorius's iPad between 7.00pm and 8.00pm when he said they were having dinner. Would an athlete and a model really wait until 1.00am or wake up in the night to eat dinner as the state suggests, says Roux. He admits that Steenkamp might have gone downstairs for a snack unbeknown to the accused, but says it is a "probability, not beyond reasonable doubt" that she ate after 11.00pm.

11.30am: Roux turns to the issue of whether neighbours heard a man or a woman screaming on the night of the shooting. Several witnesses said they heard a woman, but the closest neighbours Michael and Eontle Nhlengethwa said the same screams came from a man. Roux restates the defence's case that the first noises heard by neighbours were gunshots, followed by the cricket bat hitting the door. Therefore, it could not have been Steenkamp screaming after the gunshots, says Roux, because she had been fatally wounded. He also recalls the evidence by acoustic expert Ivan Lin who said it was "unlikely" that a scream from Pistorius's toilet could be heard "audibly and intelligibly" from 170m away. This casts doubt on the testimony of one neighbour, Michelle Burger, who insisted that she heard a woman screaming for help. Lin suggested it would not be possible for her to have heard Steenkamp, who was in the toilet cubicle, or distinguish between a male and female from that far away.

10.50am: Roux is picking apart the testimony given by state witness Dr Johan Stipp, one of Pistorius's neighbours and one of the first people on the scene to administer first aid. His evidence regarding the chronology of events contradicts the other witnesses and objective facts, including phone records, says Roux. For example, Dr Stipp claimed he called security at 3.27am, but Roux says he was already at Pistorius's house at this time. "You cannot rely on him. You have to put a big question mark on his evidence," Roux tells the court. 

10.10am: Roux begins giving a detailed timeline of what happened on the night of the shooting. He says the first shots were heard at around 3.12am. There was screaming between the first and second shots. Neighbours heard a cry of "help, help, help" around two minutes later and then at 3.17 there was a second set of noises, which Roux says was the sound of Pistorius using a cricket bat to bash down the toilet door. Security went past Pistorius's house at 2.20am and heard no arguing. Roux said this was "fatal for the state", which claims the couple were awake and arguing hours before Steenkamp was shot.

10.00am: Roux addresses Pistorius's other charges: two counts of discharging firearms in public and one count of illegal possession of ammunition. He concedes the court should find Pistorius guilty of negligently discharging a firearm in the Johannesburg restaurant Tashas. Pistorius also allegedly fired a gun through a car sunroof, while with his then girlfriend Samantha Taylor and friend Darren Fresco on 30 November 2012. Roux suggests that both witnesses are unreliable, with Taylor mistakenly believing that Pistorius had cheated on her and Fresco seeking indemnity because he was alleged to be an accomplice. The witnesses failed to agree on the time, place and motivation for the incident, he says. On the final charge, Roux says Pistorius was simply looking after his father's ammunition and did not even have a gun that could use the bullets. The defence lawyer adds that any convictions on these counts cannot be used to influence the verdict for Steenkamp's killing.

9.20am: Roux finally elaborates on Pistorius's legal defence. He denies that putative self-defence and involuntary action are mutually exclusive. The defence team is not denying that Pistorius armed himself, went towards the toilet and foresaw that it might be necessary to fire the shot, says Roux. The pull of the trigger, however, was "reflexive" – a reaction to a noise in the toilet, which Pistorius perceived to be an intruder coming out to attack him. Pistorius has an exaggerated fight response because of the "slow-burning" effect of his disability and his daily experience of not being able to run away from danger without his prosthetic legs, says Roux. If the judge believes Pistorius's reaction was purely reflexive, then the defence is involuntary action. If she believes that some form of thought process caused him to fire the shot, then it is putative self-defence, says Roux.

9.00am: Roux tells the court that there was "no respect" for the crime scene by investigators. He presents a photograph of one police officer touching a plug by the athlete's bed. The same officer told the court he had not touched anything in the room, says Roux. Pistorius faced intense questioning about the position of the plugs and two fans in his bedroom during cross-examination. The prosecution claimed as fact that an extension cord could not reach to where Pistorius claimed he had placed the fan, suggesting his version was a "lie". But Roux presents another photograph, possessed by the state but not shown in court, showing that the extension cord was longer than claimed. Roux says the cross-examination was therefore "extremely unfair".  

More about Oscar Pistorius:

What is Oscar Pistorius's defence and can it succeedOscar Pistorius involved in nightclub fight Oscar Pistorius: some defence witnesses refused to testify Oscar Pistorius judge's concern over mysterious missing cordOscar Pistorius: seven key quotes from the murder trial Pistorius cannot dodge jail with murder acquittal alone Six questions for Judge Masipa Family denies athlete took acting lessons Reeva 'had no time to scream' Pistorius told: 'You are getting deeper into trouble' Pistorius describes night he shot Reeva Steenkamp Police release photos of crime scene Five questions Pistorius will need to answer Pistorius used bullets that cause 'maximum wounding'


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