Pistorius may take the stand

Athlete may have no option but to testify

Oscar Pistorius   in the dock inside court in Pretoria. The murder trial will resume on Monday.  Photograph: Werner Beukes/AP

Oscar Pistorius in the dock inside court in Pretoria. The murder trial will resume on Monday. Photograph: Werner Beukes/AP

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 01:01

Murder accused Oscar Pistorius has no option but to give evidence about the night he shot his girlfriend dead when the trial resumes on Monday, due to the strength of the state’s case against him, according to a leading South African criminal lawyer.

In the days leading up to the trial’s adjournment postponementon March 28th, speculation was rife about whether the Paralympic athlete would take the stand to give his version of the events of February 14th, 2013 – the night Reeva Steenkamp died.

The state claims it was a case of cold-blooded murder. Prosecutors have produced witnesses who say they heard arguing and “blood-curdling screams” coming from Pistorius’s home in the hours leading up to the shooting, as well as forensic evidence they claim proves their case beyond reasonable doubt.

Pistorius, however, insists he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder, and that the shooting was a tragic accident because he thought he was actually protecting both of them.

Criminal trial lawyer William Booth told The Irish Time s that Pistorius would more than likely give evidence because he was the only direct witness to the incident and the state had presented a compelling case to date. The strength of the case, he added, was partially built on Pistorius’s decision to give his version of events during his bail hearing over a year ago.

“He has no option [but to give evidence], he disclosed his defence at the time of the bail hearing, which was unusual. Most people would rather say too little than too much [at that time]. Maybe he panicked, but you don’t have to say anything about the events to get bail. He was not a flight risk.

“If he said: ‘I am pleading not guilty, I don’t want to say anything now as I have not got all the evidence, and I don’t feel emotionally well enough to disclose exactly what happened, but I am not guilty of any crime’, he would have gotten bail,” maintained Booth.

Once the state had Pistorius’s version of events on record, they could check it off against the evidence they uncovered during their investigations, which gave them a significant advantage during the trial.

For instance, Pistorius said in his affidavit to the bail hearing that he and Steenkamp had not fought on the evening of the shooting, and that they both went to bed around 10pm. The shooting occurred about 3am the following morning.

However, four neighbours from the area were secured as witnesses who said they heard heated arguments and screaming coming from the Pistorius household before gun shots rang out.

In addition, the state pathologist testified that the state of digestion of the contents of Steenkamp’s stomach showed she had eaten about two hours before she died, a time Pistorius claimed they were asleep.

“There is no reason for them [the witnesses] to lie, they don’t know him,” said Booth. “They stood up well under cross-examination. There may well have been differences [in their versions of events] but that is to be expected when people are woken in the middle of the night by gunshots and shouting.”

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