PRETORIA, South Africa — For five days, Oscar Pistorius endured a withering cross-examination at his murder trial from a prosecutor who pounced on apparent inconsistencies in his testimony. Yet expert witnesses who will testify for the defense could undermine the prosecution's efforts to prove Pistorius killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on purpose after an argument, legal analysts said Tuesday.
The demeanor of the Olympian, often fumbling for answers and occasionally breaking into sobs, contrasted with that of prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who called Pistorius a liar and unleashed volleys of barbed questions. Social media buzzed that Pistorius is in deep trouble after he finished testifying Tuesday, but experts said the trial has a long way to go.
"Until the defense presents the rest of their case, you can't really evaluate the significance of any potential concessions that he may have made," said Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town.
The trial, which began March 3 and is expected to hear testimony until mid May, reached a key stage last week when Pistorius took the stand to testify about the circumstances of Steenkamp's killing in his home before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013. The Paralympic champion, 27, says he shot the 29-year-old model through a closed bathroom door after mistaking her for an intruder, but Nel cataloged what he said were conflicts in Pistorius' story that prove he made it up.
The prosecution provided a "very clear narrative for the first time" of what it says happened on the night of Steenkamp's death, Phelps said. The judge, she said, must decide whether Pistorius' inconsistencies were a result of his clumsily trying to polish a story that is fundamentally true or instead revealed an "elaborate coverup plot" after he murdered his lover.
During cross-examination, Pistorius gave a sometimes muddled account of the shooting. He said he feared for his life but also didn't intentionally shoot at anyone, prompting Nel to query if his defense was self-defense or "involuntary action."
Inconsistencies in the athlete's testimony include his statement that Steenkamp did not scream when he shot her but later saying his ears were ringing with the first of four gunshots and he would not have heard screams. A vital part of the prosecution's case is the testimony of neighbors who said they heard a woman's terrified screams on the night that Steenkamp died; the defense says they actually heard Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice.