South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius quizzed over Reeva Steenkamp killing

Oscar Pistorius

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius has faced hostile questioning about his version of events on the night he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel began his cross examination by pushing Mr Pistorius to acknowledge the full magnitude of his actions on 14 February 2013.

The athlete said he made a “mistake” when he shot Ms Steenkamp in his home.

“You killed a person, that’s what you did! You shot and killed her, won’t you take responsibility?” Mr Nel said.

A graphic picture of Ms Steenkamp’s head was shown to the court for the first time, prompting anguish from Mr Pistorius and a further adjournment of proceedings.

The court was shown a Sky News report showing Pistorius at a shooting range

Later, the prosecution sought to highlight what they said were inconsistencies in Mr Pistorius’ statements, questioning his claims that police tampered with items in his home after the shooting.

“I am not pleading not guilty because the scene was contaminated,” Mr Pistorius countered. “I am pleading not guilty because what I’m accused of didn’t happen.”

The athlete denies deliberately shooting dead his girlfriend, arguing he mistook her for an intruder.

Prosecutors contend he intentionally killed her in the toilet of his bathroom after a row.

The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic sprinter, who is a double amputee, faces life imprisonment if convicted of murder.

If acquitted, South African law stipulates that the court must consider the separate, lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, for which he could receive between six and 15 years in prison.

Mr Pistorius also faces charges of illegally firing a gun in public and of illegally possessing ammunition, both of which he denies.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

Gerrie Nel

Gerrie Nel is known for his no-nonsense attitude inside the courtroom and is one of South Africa’s most respected legal minds.

With more than 30 years’ experience he has a string of successful prosecutions under his belt and is no stranger to high-profile cases. He prosecuted former police boss and Interpol’s ex-head Jackie Selebi on corruption charges, once calling him an “arrogant liar” during cross examination.

Those who know him praise his meticulous attention to detail and his “fearlessness”. He was junior prosecutor in the murder case of anti-apartheid activist Chris Hani in 1993.

He was also the founding head in 1999 of the Gauteng province division of South Africa’s elite police and prosecution unit the Hawks, then known as the Scorpions.

After the opening exchanges, Mr Nel asked Mr Pistorius whether he knew about a “zombie stopper”. Mr Pistorius said he did not, but – following legal arguments – Mr Nel showed video footage of the athlete at a gun range where he is heard saying the word after shooting a watermelon.

Mr Nel then said the watermelon exploded in the same way as Ms Steenkamp’s head – and showed a graphic picture of Ms Steenkamp’s head after the shooting.

He asked Mr Pistorius to look at it and take responsibility for his actions.

“I’ve taken responsibility‚Ķ but I will not look at a picture where I am tormented by what I saw and felt that night. As I picked Reeva up my fingers touched her head, I remember, I don’t have to look at a picture I was there,” he said sobbing.

It was the first time a graphic photo of Ms Steenkamp had been deliberately shown in court.

During a brief adjournment Ms Steenkamp’s mother, June Steenkamp, told journalists she understood why it had to be shown, the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani reports from the court.

Earlier while being questioned by his lawyer Barry Roux, Mr Pistorius described the moments after paramedics had arrived at the scene.

“They asked for some space to work so I stood up. Reeva had already died whilst I was holding her before the ambulance arrived. So, I knew there was nothing they could do for her,” he said.

Before Mr Roux ended his questioning he asked Mr Pistorius if he had intentionally killed Ms Steenkamp.

“I did not intend to kill Reeva or anybody else for that matter,” he replied.

Ms Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, reality TV celebrity and law graduate, was hit by at least three bullets while in the toilet cubicle of Mr Pistorius’s home in Pretoria.