Negligence or murder? Oscar Pistorius will learn his fate on Sept. 11

The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius comes to an end, as the defense wraps up its closing arguments. The verdict is due Sept. 11. (Reuters)

In the end, it will come down to this: Which version of Oscar Pistorius does Judge Thokozile Masipa believe?

Pistorius, the South African Paralympic champion, will learn his fate on Sept. 11 after standing trial for the Valentine’s Day shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

As closing arguments in the dramatic trial concluded on Friday, defense lawyer Barry Roux sought to undermine the state’s arguments by highlighting inconsistencies and problematic evidence while also painting Pistorius as a vulnerable man who is haunted by his disability and was perpetually on edge.

The case, Roux said, should have been about negligence from the beginning — not premeditated murder.

“You find that you cannot reject his version that he thought it was an intruder,” Roux said. “He was fearful, he thought he heard the noise, and he associated it with someone coming out. How can you say it is contradictory?”

Steenkamp, a model, was killed in the bathroom of the home she shared with Pistorius, a double-amputee since infancy. Pistorius claimed he heard an intruder in the bathroom, that he went to the door without his prosthetic legs, that he screamed for the intruder to get out of the house, and that he then released a hail of bullets through the doorway. Steenkamp was shot four times.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel continuously accused Pistorius of serial dishonesty in his version of events.

Nel claimed that the famous athlete’s relationship with Steenkamp was on the rocks, and prosecutors sought to establish a pattern of anger that might have led Pistorius to murder Steenkamp on the night of Valentine’s Day, 2013.

But in his defense, Roux said that his client’s behavior could be explained by a “slow burn” of anxiety that has built since childhood — an unavoidable consequence of being “vulnerable” and disabled.

“You’re a little boy without legs. You experience daily that disability and the effect of it. You experience daily that you cannot run away. You know I cannot run away. I cannot run away. I don’t have a flight response,” Roux said.

He added: “Over time you get an exaggerated fight response.”

In closing arguments on Thursday, prosecutors reviewed evidence that Whats App messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp weeks before the tragic shooting showed that they had fought.

“Nothing improved,” Nel said on Thursday. The relationship, Nel added, “ended in death.”

Pistorius’s lawyer argued that the two had clearly made up after that initial fight.

“Every single Whats App message after 7 February, you see…it’s lovey and kisses and whatever pet names,” Roux said. “Immediately after that, up to the fatal time.”

And Roux also argued that the crime scene had been compromised by careless police investigators who inadvertently moved objects that were then used to help frame the prosecution’s case against Pistorius.

“They did not and could not have appreciated at the time the importance of the fans and the duvets,” Roux said. “What I’m saying then is don’t come to court and protest an understood scene, then cross-examine the accused as if that was the scene.”

Jury trials were abolished in South Africa 45 years ago, so it will be up to Masipa, the judge, to render a verdict.

After months of testimony, Maspia said she would take nearly five weeks to consider the facts of the case and decide whether Pistorius simply made a tragic mistake out of fear for his life — or whether he was seething with rage and committed a violent act of murder that night.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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