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Pistorius trial adjourns: Here's how the defence and prosecution cases compare

The highly emotional trial of former Olympian Oscar Pistorius is adjourned Thursday, with Judge Thokozile Masipa ruling that the proceedings will pause for more than two weeks and resume on May 5. After more than a month of dramatic testimony, a clearer picture of the defence and prosecution cases is emerging.

Is Oscar Pistorius a killer with an erratic temper or a victim of a terrible accident that left his girlfriend dead? Mr. Pistorius was arrested after shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a bathroom door with his 9mm pistol on Valentine's Day, 2013. He says he thought he was firing at an intruder who had climbed through the bathroom window. Prosecutors maintain he knew he was shooting at Ms. Steenkamp and intended to kill her.

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The Prosecution’s case

Chief prosecutor is Gerrie Nel, whose tenacious courtroom demeanor long ago earned him the nickname “bull terrier.” 
The prosecution has described Oscar Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hothead whose relationships with women have often been volatile.
Four prosecution witnesses - neighbours Michelle Burger, Charl Johnson, Johan Stipp and Anette Stipp - testified to hearing loud shouting, terrified screams from a woman and gunshots on the night Ms. Steenkamp died. Perhaps the most convincing prosecution witness was Dr. Stipp, a radiologist and military veteran who lives 70 metres from Mr. Pistorius’s home. He testified that he heard shots, then a woman’s scream, followed by more gunfire. He was also one of the first witnesses on the scene and found Mr. Pistorius kneeling beside the prone body of Ms. Steenkamp. Mr. Pistorius allegedly said “I thought she was a burglar, and I shot her.”
During cross-examination of the neighbors, Mr. Pistorius’s lawyer Barry Roux attempted to discredit their testimony, suggesting they heard Mr. Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice after the shooting, adding that some of the loud bangs they heard were of Mr. Pistorius trying to break down the bathroom door with a cricket bat.
The prosecution also called three friends of Mr. Pistorius to describe two gun-related incidents for which he is also under indictment – one in which he allegedly fired a Glock handgun in a busy Johannesburg restaurant in January, 2013 and another in which he allegedly fired his gun through a car’s sunroof.
Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The Defence’s case

The defence has described Mr. Pistorius as a self-made hero; a man who has courageously overcome not only a debilitating handicap but also the loss of his mother at a young age. But the defence also stressed the psychological effects of Mr. Pistorius’s childhood and upbringing, building a case that Mr. Pistorius felt vulnerable because of his disability and extremely protective of Ms. Steenkamp.
The defence seized upon several investigative blunders, citing the removal from the case of Hilton Botha, the chief investigator who was facing attempted-murder charges, and also the theft of two expensive luxury watches, stolen from Mr. Pistorius’s bedroom when police were in control of his house after the shooting. The defence also referred to other errors in the investigation, such as footprints left in blood and of a ballistics expert who did not wear gloves when he picked up Mr. Pistorius’ 9mm pistol used in the shooting.
Mr. Pistorius testified at length about his fear of crime and of incidents in which he had been robbed, harassed or followed. He contended he was terrified on the night of the shooting because he thought there was an intruder in the toilet and he fired the four shots when he heard the noise of wood moving in the toilet. He insisted that he had never intended to kill Ms. Steenkamp – “or anyone else for that matter,” aware that he could still be convicted of murder if he was deliberately trying to kill an intruder, rather than Ms. Steenkamp.
During cross-examination, Mr. Nel questioned Mr. Pistorius for five days, forcing Mr. Pistorius to concede that he had omitted details of the night of the shooting. Mr. Pistorius repeatedly broke down during cross-examination, sometimes wailing uncontrollably and retching into a bucket, which prompted Judge Masipa to adjourn the trial early on two consecutive days.
Werner Beukes/AP

A possible turning point

During his cross-examination, Mr. Nel appeared to have scored a victory when Mr. Pistorius testified the shooting was “accidental” and involuntary rather than an act of self-defence. This could prove pivotal as it constitutes a change in Mr. Pistorius’s account of the shooting from putative self-defence to involuntary action.
Prosecutor Nel zeroed in on the claim the shooting was accidental, comparing it to the incident in the restaurant in which Mr. Pistorius also claimed to have fired the gun accidently. Mr. Nel argued that Mr. Pistorius has a consistent pattern of denying responsibility for any offence. 
Legal analysts say that Mr. Pistorius could be creating serious problems for his defence if he is switching his explanation at this point at the trial. The defence of “involuntary action” is usually used in cases of sleepwalking, epileptic seizures or similar episodes.
Gianluigi Guercia/AP

What comes next

Presiding over the trial is Judge Masipa, a highly regarded judge and the second black woman promoted to the bench in South Africa. She is assisted by two assessors. When the trial begins again on May 5, the defence intends to call as many as 17 more witnesses and expects to finish presenting evidence by the middle of May.
After all witnesses have been heard, the prosecution and defence will submit their final arguments, and then it will be up to Judge Masipa to render a verdict.

With files from Geoffrey York in Johannesburg

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