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Prosecutor: Pistorius has lost this race

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Oscar Pistorius reacts as he listens to state prosecutor summarise his evidence during his court case in Pretoria, South Africa, yesterday. - AP

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP):

In closing arguments in a murder trial that has riveted South Africa and many around the world, the chief prosecutor said yesterday that Olympian Oscar Pistorius dropped "the baton of truth" and produced a succession of lies to save himself from a conviction for shooting to death his girlfriend.

Likening the sensational trial to the sport that made the double-amputee runner world-famous, Gerrie Nel said Pistorius had lost this race and urged the judge to convict him of premeditated murder for killing Reeva Steenkamp. The charge carries a sentence of at least 25 years and up to life in prison.

appalling witness

Nel said Pistorius' explanation that he acted out of fear there was a dangerous intruder hiding in a toilet cubicle in his bathroom was "absolutely devoid of any truth". Nel criticised Pistorius in the Pretoria courtroom, saying he was an "appalling witness" ready to lie at every chance to cover up a murder. The chief prosecutor spoke for nearly five hours, using the 109-page written argument the prosecution submitted to the court last week.

Chief defence lawyer Barry Roux listened and checked files as Nel spoke. Judge Thokozile Masipa occasionally questioned Nel, and urged him at one point to speed up. At the start of closing arguments, she had warned the lawyers they had only until the end of today to complete them in court.

"Unless, of course, you want to work on a Saturday and perhaps Sunday, after church," she said, smiling.

The defence repeated its claim that police had tampered with crucial evidence at the scene, but Roux had only started his final arguments when Judge Masipa postponed proceedings until today for the defence to finish.

That day is scheduled to be the 41st and final day of proceedings before Masipa adjourns to consider a verdict with her two legal assessors, five months after the trial opened. South Africa has no trial by jury and there are no limits on how long Masipa may take to reach her judgement.

lesser convictions

Pistorius could also be convicted of a lesser murder charge or negligent killing, both of which call for years in jail. The judge could acquit him if she believes he only made a tragic error.

Nel argued that Masipa should still convict Pistorius of murder, even if she accepts his story that he didn't know it was Steenkamp behind the door. Either way, Pistorius armed himself with his 9mm pistol on February 14, 2013 and shot four times with the intention to kill someone and with no reason to believe his life was in danger, Nel said.

Pistorius sat behind Nel, occasionally looking through documents and appearing calm, in contrast to some past occasions during which he retched and wailed in apparent distress. For the first time in the trial, Pistorius' father, Henke, and Steenkamp's father, Barry, were in the courtroom, sitting at opposite ends of a long bench in the gallery.