6 May 2014

Oscar Pistorius murder trial: most dramatic moments so far

As the Oscar Pistorius murder trial resumes in Pretoria, Channel 4 News charts the twists and turns and looks at how the disabled sports star’s case fares under the weight of evidence so far.

1. The break down

The fifth week of the murder trial began with the moment the world was waiting for. South Africa’s one-time celebrity sports star took to the stand and began his testimony with an apology to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, who he shot dead in the early hours of Valentine’s day 2013.

However it was his second day of testimony on 8 April that was the more dramatic. The Paralympic and Olympic star had been obviously upset in court before – the famous green bucket a regular presence at his side, in case of any retching.

But this time, he unleashed a torrent of emotion. Describing “the moment everything changed”, he recalled his account of the hours before and after the fatal shooting and eventually broke down. Sobbing through his words, he described holding her body in his arms before howling: “She wasn’t breathing.”

2. The ‘private’ messages

The 1,700 Whatsapp text messages exchanged between Pistorius and Steenkamp – including those deleted by Pistorius and retrieved by experts – have been pored over extensively during the trial, with both the prosecution and defence coming back to them again and again, picking over the particulars to prove their point.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux was at pains to point out that just four messages showed signs of a strain in the relationship. He showed the court CCTV footage that he said proved they were a “loving couple”.

But he could do little to dilute the impression left by some of Reeva’s own words, especially the line: “I’m scared of you sometimes, and how you snap at me.”
Whatever the interpretation of the many messages, they were a poignant reminder of the woman at the very heart of the trial, whose voice can only be hear from beyond the grave.

3. Graphic photos

One of the most dramatic days for everyone present in court was 9 April, when Chief Prosecutor Gerrie Nel – “the bulldog” – showed the court a photo of Steenkamp’s bloodied head, taken just after the shooting.

The image flashed up on video screens scattered throughout the courtroom and was met with gasps. The Steenkamp family said they had been forewarned – but Pistorius and the rest of the court had not.

Referring to the now notorious “zombie stopper” video of Pistorius shooting a watermelon, Mr Nel said: “You saw how the bullet made the watermelon explode. You know that the same thing happened to Reeva’s head.”

4. ‘You armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her’

After five days of tough cross-examination, Gerrie Nel finished his questioning on 15 April with a damning series of statements that tore through Pistorius’s increasingly weary attempts at resistance.

Pistorius said he shouted at an intruder: “Get the f*** out of my house.” But Mr Nel countered “that’s what you shouted at Reeva”, before pointing to pictures of the direction of the four bullets and claiming: “You heard Reeva fall and you changed your aim.”

Against pleas of “that is not true” from Pistorius, Mr Nel pointed out that Steenkamp’s jeans were strewn on the floor – proving, he said, that she had been planning to leave the house in the middle of an argument.

You fired four shots through the door whilst knowing that she was standing behind the door. Gerrie Nel

And Mr Nel picked apart the “noise” of the door closing, that Pistorius said had made him believe an intruder was in the toilet – but which he had neglected to mention in his bail hearing, and plea explanation.

The court also heard the beginnings of what is likely to be the prosecution’s closing argument: “You fired four shots through the door whilst knowing that she was standing behind the door,” said Mr Nel. He added: “She was locked into the bathroom and you armed yourself with the sole purpose of shooting and killing her.”

5. ‘Bloodcurdling screams’

As the trial resumes after a break on 5 May, the initial few weeks seem a long time ago. But the testimony from Pistorius’s neighbours who witnessed the commotion in the early hours of the morning are crucial to the state’s case that the couple were arguing before Steenkamp was shot.

Michelle Burger said she was awoken to “bloodcurdling screams” on the night in question – and broke down in tears when describing the “terror” she hear. Her husband agreed. Estelle van der Merwe said she heard two people fighting at around 2am, and that the argument continued until gunshots were heard an hour later. She also said she heard screaming that “sounded like a woman”.

Their testimony is key to the prosecution’s case, which argues Pistorius shot in anger. He can only be charged with premeditated murder if the state proves that the shooting was deliberate. If acquitted, the judge will then decide if he is guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

However the prosecution said that sound tests they carried out from inside Pistorius’s apartment proved that Steenkamp’s screams, if they did exist, could never have been heard from so far away. They have also said they will bring to the stand neighbours who did not hear any screams.

While the PR battle for Pistorius’s image may have been lost, the legal wrangling is far from over. The case continues.