PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius’s lawyers began repairing their defense in his trial for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after its lead expert witness stumbled and the Paralympic athlete appeared to change his original self-defense plea.
The defense called Johan Stander, the manager of the gated community where Pistorius lived and the first person he called after he shot Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. As Stander and his daughter arrived at the house, Pistorius was carrying Steenkamp down the stairs, he told the high court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, Monday.
“When he reached the bottom of the stairs, my daughter asked him to put Reeva down,” Stander said. “He was really crying. He was broken, he was screaming, crying, praying.”
Stander was the first witness called by the defense as it tried to rebuild its case that Pistorius fired at Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has argued that Pistorius shot Steenkamp after they had an argument, with neighbors testifying they heard shouting and a woman’s screams shortly after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, last year. Pistorius says police tampered with evidence, moving items at the crime scene.
The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV. Pistorius has also pleaded not guilty to three gun-related charges.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t premeditated. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of premeditated murder.
Before the trial adjourned last month, former police investigator Roger Dixon was repeatedly challenged by Nel about his qualifications to testify about the crime scene. A professor of geology, he never physically touched evidence he gave an opinion on, and he contradicted Pistorius’s version of the way Steenkamp had fallen after being shot.
Pistorius ended seven days of testimony on April 14 after appearing to contradict his original claim of self defense when he said that he fired four shots through the door “accidentally.” Nel said that would mean Pistorius was claiming a defense of involuntary action.
“Your version is not only untruthful but it is so improbable that it couldn’t have happened,” Nel said. “Who should we blame for the black talon round that ripped through her?” he said, referring to the make of hollow-point bullet used in the shooting.
Nel has sought to undermine the defense’s portrayal of Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. He accused Pistorius of tailoring his testimony to fit in with the evidence.
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($95,000) bail since February last year.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
– With assistance from Paul Burkhardt, Andre Janse van Vuuren and Renee Bonorchis in Johannesburg.