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Pistorius due in court as trial nears verdict

2014-08-06 05:34

Johannesburg - The murder trial of fallen Olympian Oscar Pistorius resumes on Thursday for closing arguments after months of gripping testimony that captured the world's attention.

It will be a final showdown between two of the country's top legal minds: defence lawyer Barry Roux, and senior state prosecutor Gerrie Nel, nicknamed "Bulldog" because of his brutal style of questioning.

The hearing is set down for two days before Judge Thokozile Masipa, who is then expected to adjourn the case for a couple of weeks before delivering her verdict.

Pistorius, aged 27, is charged with murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on the night of Valentine's Day last year.

The double amputee athlete, known as the "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic limbs, claims he mistakenly shot Steenkamp through a locked toilet door, believing she was an intruder in his upmarket Pretoria home.

Prosecutors argue that Pistorius deliberately killed the 29-year old law graduate, who had been his girlfriend for three months, after an argument.

If convicted on the main charge of premeditated murder, the sprinter faces a minimum of 25 years in jail.

Pistorius 'changed his version'

Lawyer and legal commentator Ulrich Roux said that if Pistorious were acquitted of premeditated murder he could still be convicted on alternative charges of murder or culpable homicide.

Roux said the athlete had not done well under cross-examination in the witness box.

"He changed his version a number of times when tested by Gerrie Nel, making it nearly impossible for the court to accept his version," the lawyer said.

But Martin Hood, a criminal lawyer watching the trial closely, believes that despite the confusing defence the state has not done enough to prove premeditated murder.

"Premeditated murder requires that there was a plan," said Hood. "I think what we have here is a crime of passion, an intentional crime, but a crime of passion."

Assistant prosecutor Andrea Johnson told AFP that the closing arguments had already been sent to the judge and that the state prosecutor will be the first to address the court.

She said Nel will not read the entire document but "certain portions that he wants to highlight to the court".

"The state argues, defence argues, state replies, and then we are done," said Johnson.

"Then the judge will tell us when we must come back for the judgement."

A forlorn figure

The trial resumes after a month-long break, during which Pistorius - who is on bail - was involved in a bar scuffle in a Johannesburg nightclub.

His family put the incident down to the stress he is under and an "escalating sense of loneliness and alienation".

The star, who rose to international fame when he competed alongside able-bodied runners at the 2012 London Olympics, has cut a forlorn figure in the dock, weeping and vomiting at times.

Pistorius was sent by the court for 30 days psychiatric observation after a defence witness testified that he suffered from "generalised anxiety disorder".

A panel of mental health experts found that he did not suffer from a mental disorder when he shot Steenkamp and could be held criminally responsible for his actions.

The defence has sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed with safety, a result of a difficult childhood and his disability, factors which they argue explain his reaction the night he killed Steenkamp.

Members of Pistorius's extended family, including younger brother Carl, have been a permanent feature in the public gallery.

Steenkamp's grieving mother has also attended the trial regularly, and her father Barry is expected to be in court for the first time on Thursday, according to a lawyer representing the family.

AFP

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