Prosecutor targets Pistorius' account of safety fears

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PRETORIA, South Africa -- What exactly was Oscar Pistorius doing in the moments before he fatally shot his girlfriend in his home?

Was he, as the double-amputee Olympian testified Friday, hobbling fearfully on his stumps with his pistol down a passageway from his bedroom toward the bathroom after hearing a possible intruder there? Or, as the chief prosecutor contended, was he instead angrily pursuing his girlfriend amid an argument?

Contradicting himself at times, Mr. Pistorius sparred with the prosecutor over the differing accounts of what happened on the night he killed Reeva Steenkamp by firing four times through the closed door of a toilet cubicle. The star athlete, who says the shooting was an accident because he mistook her for a robber, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.

"My whole being was fixated on this person that I thought was in the bathroom," Mr. Pistorius said during the third day of his cross-examination.

He said that as he moved toward the bathroom, he screamed to his girlfriend to get down from their bed and call the police. After hearing a noise that made him think someone was opening the toilet door to attack him, Mr. Pistorius said he opened fire. Only afterward, he testified, did he realize that Steenkamp was in the toilet cubicle.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel relentlessly attacked Mr. Pistorius' account, asking the runner why he didn't determine where Steenkamp was and make sure she was OK before firing, and why he approached what he thought was a danger zone in the dark. Mr. Nel noted that throughout Mr. Pistorius' version Steenkamp "never uttered a word."

"I agree with Mr. Nel she would have been terrified," Mr. Pistorius said. "But I don't think she would have shouted out. ... In her mind, I must have been retreating toward the bathroom." Mr. Nel responded that such a supposition would have given Steenkamp even more cause to speak to Mr. Pistorius, just yards away.

The trial in a wood-lined courtroom in the South African city of Pretoria has been closely followed around the world, which once admired Mr. Pistorius as a man who persevered despite his disability and reached the pinnacle of his career when he was allowed to run in the London Olympics in 2012.


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