July 7, 2014 / 3:03 PM / 5 years ago

Prosecutor seeks to cast doubt on Pistorius' 'vulnerability'

PRETORIA (Reuters) - A South African prosecutor sought on Monday to cast doubt on the defense’s portrayal of Oscar Pistorius as a vulnerable person, a day after a leaked video showed the Paralympic star calmly re-enacting the night he killed his girlfriend.

South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, July 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jerome Delay/Pool

Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, is accused of murdering his law graduate and model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day last year. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Since the trial opened in early March, the defense team has worked to portray Pistorius as a vulnerable and caring boyfriend who killed 29-year-old Steenkamp accidentally after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a closed toilet door.

The prosecution led by Gerrie Nel has argued Pistorius is a gun-obsessed hot-head who often lost his temper with Steenkamp.

“If you find a homeless person on the street, that person would be vulnerable? If you find poor people, without houses with alarms and guards, they will be vulnerable?” Nel said in his cross-examination of defense witness Wayne Derman, doctor of the South African Paralympic team which had included Pistorius.

“In this instance we found somebody ... living in a security complex with an alarm system and guards. If Mr Pistorius was vulnerable on that night, he armed himself ... with a gun in his hand, he is less vulnerable,” Nel added.

In previous testimony, Derman said that Pistorius had a “heightened fight response” due to his disability, which would explain his actions that led to the shooting of Steenkamp.


During the cross-examination, Nel asked Derman several times if he had ever seen Pistorius walk backwards on the stumps of his legs, without his prosthetics on.

Video footage aired on Sunday by Australian television Channel 7, showing a re-enactment by Pistorius of his movements on the night of Steenkamp’s shooting, include a scene in which he walks backwards on his stumps.

On Monday, Derman denied ever seeing the athlete walk backwards and the Channel 7 video was not explicitly mentioned in the court proceedings.

Other parts of the re-enactment footage screened in Channel 7’s Sunday Night program show a confident and composed Pistorius, without his prosthetic legs, moving forward with his right arm extended as though pointing a gun. [ID:nL6N0PI0R8]

The family lawyers of the accused athlete said the “visual mapping” re-enactment was for trial preparation only and they alleged it had been “obtained illegally” by Channel 7. The Australian channel denied it had obtained the video unlawfully.

Despite some speculation that the leak of the re-enactment video might cause problems, the Pistorius trial resumed without a hitch on Monday morning.

The court heard last week that the athlete was not suffering from a mental condition when he shot Steenkamp, meaning he had the ability to distinguish between the rightful or wrongful nature of his actions.

Pistorius, known as ‘Blade Runner’ because of the carbon-fiber prosthetics he uses on the track, had become world famous as a symbol of triumph over adversity, overcoming his disability to race against able-bodied men at the London 2012 Olympics.

The defense team is expected to wrap up its case on Tuesday before both legal teams retire to prepare closing statements.

Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Gareth Jones

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