Eighteen months ago when he granted Oscar Pistorius bail
after the killing of his girlfriend, South African magistrate
Desmond Nair noted a number of "improbabilities" in the Olympic
and Paralympic star's account of the shooting.
After 41 days of testimony and drama in the Pretoria High
Court, Pistorius's freedom hangs on whether the prosecution
has made its case well enough to convince judge Thokozile
Masipa that such improbabilities cannot be "reasonably
Pistorius, a double-amputee who made it to the semi-final of
the 400 metres at the London 2012 Olympics, says he fired
through the door into the toilet cubicle in the mistaken
belief he was defending himself from a burglar.
Why, Nair had asked, did Pistorius not find out who was in
the toilet before firing four 9mm hollow-point rounds?
And why did Reeva Steenkamp not let him know she was there?
With Pistorius the only direct witness, much of the state's
case rests on forensics, including evidence that the sequence
of Steenkamp's injuries would have allowed her to cry out,
and on the testimony of neighbours who say they heard the
terrified screams of a woman immediately before and during a
volley of shots.
The defence says the screams came from Pistorius, at an
unusually high pitch for a man because of the distress of
discovering that he had unwittingly shot Steenkamp.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, known as "The Pitbull", painted a
picture of Pistorius, 27, as a gun-obsessed hot-head who
killed Steenkamp, 29, in a fit of rage after a row in the
early hours of Valentine's Day last year.
Pistorius and his representatives have made no comment
outside the trial since it started in early March, other than
to thank friends, family and supporters.
South Africa's apartheid government scrapped trial by jury in
the late 1960s, meaning that 66-year-old Masipa, only the
second black woman to rise to the bench, will ultimately
decide Pistorius's fate when she delivers her verdict on
Possible verdicts range from convictions for premeditated
murder - and a minimum 25-year sentence - or a lesser count
of murder, to culpable homicide - with a maximum 15-year
sentence - if Masipa believes he did not intend to kill
Steenkamp but did so by firing negligently or recklessly.
She could acquit if she accepts that Pistorius believed he
was acting in self-defence - known formally as 'putative
private defence' - when he pulled the trigger.
"This case is about the credibility of Oscar Pistorius," said
Johannesburg-based advocate Riaan Louw. "If he's not a
credible witness and the judge does not accept his testimony,
he's going to be convicted on either murder or culpable
Pistorius gave five days of cross-examination in April under
the gaze of the world's media.
By turns calm, tearful and combative, at one point he
appeared to confuse the central pillar of his legal defence
under questioning from Nel. Having argued that the killing
was a deliberate but mistaken act of self-preservation, he
then said he pulled the trigger without thinking - an
assertion that would match a so-called automaton defence but
Three times when under pressure during cross-examination,
Pistorius blamed his legal team for differences between or
omissions from the sworn affidavit prepared for his bail
deposition and his evidence in court.
"When it starts happening regularly like this, and every time
you get a difficult question you blame it on your lawyer, the
judge is going to make a very careful note,"
Johannesburg-based criminal defence advocate Mannie Wits
There were other inconsistencies in his evidence, including
an admission that he had not after all left the bedroom to
get a fan from the balcony - contradicting his bail
deposition, in which he said it was during this absence from
the bedroom that Steenkamp must have gone to the toilet.
If the judge accepts his testimony and agrees that the
shooting was self-defence, she must still decide whether
shooting four times at an unidentified target on the other
side of a closed door is legally "reasonable".
After the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa tightened
its gun laws, such that a person can shoot only if there is
an imminent and direct threat - a principle Pistorius said he
had read and understood as part of his firearms licence test.
"He knew there was a human being in the toilet. That's his
evidence," prosecutor Nel said in closing remarks.
"His intention was to kill a human being. He has fired
indiscriminately into that toilet. Then, M'lady, he is guilty
of murder. There must be consequences."