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South Africa

Pistorius trial closing; verdict a month away

Oscar Pistorius’s defense lawyer said the athlete’s shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was a “huge, unfortunate mistake” made after a noise that appeared to show an intruder was in the house.

“He was desperate to save her,” Barry Roux said Friday during final arguments in the High Court here in the capital. “That’s not consistent with someone who wanted to kill his girlfriend. It’s inconsistent. It’s consistent with an accident, with a huge, unfortunate mistake.”

Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge. He has said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he fired four shots through a locked toilet cubicle door in a bathroom at his home on Valentine’s Day last year. He later said he discharged the weapon in reaction to hearing a sound. The prosecution says he killed her after an argument and that there was no noise before he pulled the trigger.

Judge Thokozile Masipa closed the hearing in the 41-day trial, with the verdict to be delivered on Sept. 11. The athlete could face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder.

Should the court agree the move was a reflex, then it means the Paralympian lacked cognitive capacity, Roux said. This may result in a lesser charge. If it says there was a thought process, then it must consider his anxiety and vulnerability caused by his disability, he said.

“Did the accused foresee the possibility that the deceased was in the toilet and did he say: ‘I don’t care, I’m so scared I’m going to shoot in any event?’ “ Roux said. “The opposite is true. He genuinely thought she was in the bedroom.”

The state’s version of the timeline of events on the morning of the shooting didn’t make sense, Roux said. The fact that police investigators moved a fan and an extension cord, an action used by the prosecution to demonstrate Pistorius’s movements shortly before the shooting, showing “no respect” for the crime scene, he said.

While some neighbors who were state witnesses had said they heard a woman before and after gunshots, Roux said, the court needed to be careful with the distinction between a male and a female voice, referring to evidence from other residents of the estate, who said they heard a man’s voice.

Even if Masipa accepts that Pistorius acted in self- defense, the state argues the athlete “can’t escape” a finding “at the very least” of intent through the legal concept of “dolus eventualis,” where he foresaw the possibility that he may shoot and kill someone, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Thursday.

“The accused intended to kill a human being,” Nel said Friday. “He knew there was a human being in the toilet. That’s his evidence -- he can’t get away from that. If someone shoots and kills someone, like he did in this matter, there must be consequences. To say that because he intended to shoot an intruder and he shot the deceased there should be no consequences for him, that cannot be.”

Throughout the trial that started on March 3, Roux has portrayed Pistorius as a victim of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp, a model and television presenter.

“Go and look at every single Whatsapp message after Feb. 7 -- they quickly made up,” Roux said today. Nel had yesterday said the defense’s case to demonstrate the couple’s closeness wasn’t compelling and referred to a message in which Steenkamp had said Pistorius was publicly critical of her.

Prosecutor Nel depicted Pistorius as a short-tempered gun lover who shot Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

The athlete has also pleaded not guilty to three separate gun-related charges.

Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could also consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t intentional.

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February last year.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike, Luxottica’s Oakley and Ossur, the Icelandic company that manufactures the blades he uses.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

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