The chief prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius on Thursday accused the Olympic athlete of egotistical behavior in his relationship with Reeva Steenkamp before he killed her, and described Pistorius’ courtroom apology to his girlfriend’s family as an insincere “spectacle” that ignored the feelings of her relatives.
“Your life is just about you,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel said on a second day of cross-examination of Pistorius, who fatally shot Steenkamp through a closed toilet cubicle of his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, mistaking her for a dangerous intruder. The prosecution says he intentionally killed her after an argument.
Nel asserted that Pistorius was sometimes mean to Steenkamp, pressing him about her objection to him playing a song by American rapper Kendrick Lamar on a car stereo. Pistorius referred the song in a cellular telephone message to Steenkamp that acknowledged her objections and has been included as evidence in the trial.
The prosecutor asked if the name of the song was “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” but Pistorius said he couldn’t remember the specific song. Nel responded that Steenkamp would have been right to take offense.
A phone message from Steenkamp to Pistorius that was shown in court includes the line: “You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together but I am not some other bitch you may know trying to kill your vibe.”
Nel’s tough questioning was designed to counter earlier testimony in which Pistorius said he loved Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, and was trying to protect her when he shot her without realizing, according to his account, that she was in the toilet cubicle.
Two contrasting images of the double-amputee runner have emerged in court: the defense-led image of Pistorius as a contrite man who had been worried about crime and made a terrible mistake on the night he killed Steenkamp, and the prosecution’s depiction of him as an overbearing egotist who was obsessed with firearms.
Nel referred to a shooting incident at Tashas restaurant in Johannesburg in which a shot went off after a friend of the runner passed him a loaded gun under the table. Pistorius, who faces a separate charge of firing a gun in a public place because of that episode as well as two other firearms charges, said he didn’t have his finger on the trigger when the gun fired. This happened about a month before Pistorius killed Steenkamp.
The prosecutor noted that a police expert had testified that the gun could not be fired without pulling the trigger, and sarcastically described the discharge as a “miracle.”
“We have you in possession of the gun, a shot went off, but you didn’t discharge the gun,” Nel said incredulously of the athlete’s account.
Small arms and ammunition expert J.C. de Klerk told The Associated Press that it was not possible for the gun, a Glock 27 .40-caliber pistol, to fire without the trigger being pulled.
Nel also grilled Pistorius on another of the charges against him, that the athlete had rounds of .38-caliber ammunition in a safe at his home and had no proper licensing for it. Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the charge and said it was his father’s and not his.
Nel said Pistorius’ father, Henke, had “refused” to make a statement to police regarding if the ammunition belonged to him.
Nel said of Pistorius: “You just don’t want to accept responsibility for anything.”
On the relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp, Nel said he had checked all of her text messages on her cellular telephone and that the phrase “I love you” appeared only twice in those missives. On both occasions, he said, they were written by Steenkamp to her mother.
“Never to you and you never to her,” Nel said, addressing Pistorius.
“I never got the opportunity to tell Reeva that I loved her,” Pistorius said in a soft voice. He did not look at Nel while replying to the prosecutor’s questions, instead directing his gaze to Judge Thokozile Masipa on the dais.
Masipa will deliver a verdict because there is no jury system in South Africa. Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted on a premeditated murder charge.
Nel also accused Pistorius of ignoring the concerns of Steenkamp’s family by apologizing to them at the beginning of his testimony this week, rather than seeking to express his condolences in private. Steenkamp’s mother, June, has attended court sessions this week.
“Why would you create a spectacle in court, in the public domain, in the public eye,” Nel said. “Why did you put them through this?”
Pistorius said his lawyers had been in touch with representatives of Steenkamp’s family, and that he had believed the family of his girlfriend was not ready to meet him.
“I completely understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “It’s not that I haven’t thought about them.”