Oscar trial: 'Bull terrier' takes centre stage

PRETORIA - Oscar Pistorius felt first-hand the bite of prosecutor Gerrie Nel minutes into his cross-examination at his murder trial.

Mr Nel is known as "the bull terrier" in court circles, and now the whole world is beginning to see why.

He has a reputation for being ruthless and merciless in his bid to get to the truth.

When asked by Mr Nel about his stature as a role model, the Paralympic gold medal winner replied: "I think I was. I made a terrible mistake."

And that is when Mr Nel pounced.

"You made a mistake? You killed someone. You killed Reeva, that's what you did.

"Say: 'Yes, I shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp,'" he demanded.

"I did," Mr Pistorius replied, in a barely audible voice.

It was a sign of things to come.

Later Mr Nel showed the court a picture of Ms Steenkamp's head after the shooting. It was possibly the most graphic moment since the start of the trial.

Gasps and sighs filled the courtroom as Mr Nel thundered on.

"Look at it," he shouted at Mr Pistorius.

The athlete could not.

Through tears, he told the court he had cradled Ms Steenkamp's head and remembered how it had looked - he said he was "tormented" by it.

But Mr Nel was unrelenting.

He described Ms Steenkamp's head as having "exploded" - just like a watermelon Mr Pistorius had shot at a shooting range.

The prosecutor was referring to a video he played in court which showed Mr Pistorius firing at the fruit.

With laughter heard in the background of the video, Mr Pistorius is heard exclaiming: "It's softer than brain… it's like a zombie stopper."

The athlete says he now regrets making those comments.

Some have raised questions about Mr Nel's aggressive approach, but as respected South African legal expert Llewellyn Curlewis puts it: "This is what happens in court every day."

This is the best and worst of the criminal justice system on display.

"Cross-examination is the biggest single way to get to the truth of the matter," says Mr Curlewis, president of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces of South Africa.

"Anything goes. The accused's lawyer is there to object if there is a need."

Mr Curlewis explains that at any point the judge can intervene if she believes the witness is being badgered.

However, as this is a serious criminal matter, she will also not want to be seen as interfering during cross-examination - the crucial point where cases are often made or broken.

Mr Curlewis says justice must be served and sometimes that means through extreme means.

Mr Pistorius sometimes gives elaborate answers in court - to the annoyance of the prosecutor.

He was more composed in court today - his third day on the stand - except for a few moments of crying.

Mr Nel has begun pointing to a few alleged inconsistencies in his version of events in the early hours of 14 February 2013 when he shot dead his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Prosecutors say he intentionally killed her after a row, but Mr Pistorius insists he mistook her for an intruder.

Comments (5)

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Please get a message to Mr NEL asap ask him to find reeva's mobile pone and check the voice recording....maybe she was recording while she and oscar were having that argument. secondly find out if there is any recording from the neighbours regarding the screams in the middle of the night early in the morning. if there is such a recording on reeva's phone...then...oscar is grilled. thank you i am in lodon

anna - 10 April 2014

@anna. hatidi vanhu vanotaura zvakapusa ku "lodon" ikoko . do u think ma investigators didnt think of that

dickmore - 11 April 2014

first, for the ONLY fact that he murdered a person, he must face jury, secondly, the fact that Reeva went to a bath was because she could not withstand an argument, and Oscar follows up to the bathroom armed with a pistol, fired towards the bath,

Commercial Law Student - 11 April 2014

Ko zvekuva ku "Lodon" zvinei ne investigation ya Oscar nhaiwe Anna? These people are well trained and surely that was the 1st thing they did even if they have never been to a place called "Lodon"

Champion Bubbler - 17 April 2014

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