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Combative prosecutor makes mark in Pistorius trial



PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Prosecutor Gerrie Nel fired another tough question at murder suspect Oscar Pistorius.

"Are you sure, Mr Pistorius, that Reeva did not scream after you fired the first shot?" asked Nel.

The athlete, who earlier said he was tired and struggling under the relentless interrogation, leaned back in the witness box and remained silent. The wood-lined courtroom in South Africa was hushed and expectant on Friday. Was Pistorius thinking through an answer, or was he on the verge of an emotional outburst, or was he reflecting on his predicament and Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he killed in his home last year?

After a tense pause, the Olympic athlete said he wished Steenkamp had let him know she was in the toilet cubicle where he shot her - by mistake, according to his account. He said she did not scream, but also that his ears were ringing with the gunshot and he would not have heard screams.

Pistorius often seemed worn down as the caustic prosecutor picked holes in parts of his story. The dramatic cross-examination has drawn attention to Nel, a prominent state prosecutor dubbed "pitbull" in local media and on social networks for his combative, often effective style.

One of the highlights of his career came in 2010 when he secured the conviction on corruption charges of Jackie Selebi, a former national police commissioner and ex-president of Interpol - Nel got an international prosecutors' award for his efforts in that case.

Now Nel's international profile is ascending further after three days of challenging and even ridiculing the claim by Pistorius, 27, that he accidentally killed Steenkamp, 29, by firing through a closed toilet door, mistaking her for an intruder in his house before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013. The prosecution says the double-amputee runner is lying, and that he killed his girlfriend after an argument during which she fled into the toilet cubicle to seek refuge. Nel will continue questioning Pistorius on Monday.

A radio station made a parody rap song about defense lawyer Barry Roux, and now Nel has one too ("They call me Gerrie Nel/And I am mad as hell.") In The Times, a South African newspaper, cartoonist Zapiro depicted Nel as a bullet, his head on the tip, speeding toward an alarmed Pistorius.

He has a gentler side, according to Rapport newspaper. It reported that in his personal time, Nel teaches young children how to wrestle and that he is patient and never loses his temper with his students.

Pistorius' murder trial is being broadcast on television. While Pistorius is not shown on the screen during his testimony, viewers have watched Nel browbeat the once globally admired figure who reached a pinnacle when he ran in the London Olympics in 2012. Pistorius, who has been free on bail for the last year, could be jailed for 25 years to life if convicted of premeditated murder and also faces three separate, gun-related charges.

"You will blame anybody but yourself," Nel told Pistorius last week in an attack on the character of the athlete. It was an attempt to shred the defense's presentation of its client as humble, responsible and loving toward the woman he killed. At one point, Nel laughed derisively at one of a number of answers from Pistorius that he described as evasive or contradictory, or downright false, prompting Judge Thokozile Masipa to reprimand the prosecutor for the outburst.

On another occasion, Masipa cautioned Nel to "mind your language" for accusing the athlete of lying.

In 2008, Nel was arrested in what his backers said was an attempt to interfere with the case against Selebi, the former police chief, but he was soon cleared. Nel was also head of the regional branch of the Scorpions, a crime-fighting unit that was later disbanded in a decision that raised concern about the independence of law enforcement from politics. He was a prosecutor in a case leading to the convictions of two men for the 1993 killing of Chris Hani, an anti-apartheid leader whose death stirred fears of racial violence as South Africa transitioned from white rule to an all-race democracy.

Surrounded by security, Pistorius daily leaves the Pretoria court to fend his way through a crush of press and bystanders. On a recent afternoon, Nel left the court quietly, unassuming in a dark suit and open-necked shirt. Despite his newfound celebrity status, he walked across the street, almost unnoticed.

Join the discussion

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loamylam April 13 2014 at 2:06 PM

He probably should've gone into politics. They can always use good liars. Plus, with such a craft he gets job security.

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1 reply
greenliks loamylam April 13 2014 at 3:24 PM

And being on his stumps I'm sure he could have been very persuasive to the pervs in politics!

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rdcabe April 13 2014 at 6:01 PM

If person was in bathroom closed door and he had a 9mm hand gun. How much danger was he really in. If someone came running out of the bathroom to attack him. All he had to do is unload the gun on them. 9mm bullett is a very huge round. So I would say anyone with a bit of sense would only see he is guilty of shotting the girlfriend in a bit of jealousy rage.

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Gayle April 13 2014 at 6:19 PM

I have been watching this trial and the prosecutor is correct. No matter what they question Pistorious on it is someone elses fault or he can't remember. Who shoots through a bathroom door. You sit there with the gun pointed at the door and tell the person on the otherside the police are on their way. He didn't because he knew who was on the other side of the door. I was watching his brother in court and his smirks and mumbling makes me think he is a stupid ass too.

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ooo-b-doo April 13 2014 at 6:23 PM

Pissytorius is a cold blooded killer.

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moudsie April 13 2014 at 6:26 PM

What a piece of crap--the constant crying, hurling, etc. it's not cutting it--he did it and is trying to get out of it. I hope they fry his butt.

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1 reply
JerryG moudsie April 13 2014 at 10:38 PM

I like my ham smoked.

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rude April 13 2014 at 6:36 PM

"Mr. Pistorius, based on your well-known temper, is it possible you've killed before this?"

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hankbrilliant April 13 2014 at 7:57 PM

It was claimed that Pistorius vomitted while on the stand. Is that true?

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2 replies
abcstarfox hankbrilliant April 13 2014 at 8:46 PM

Yes...more than once.
It was viewed as deliberate and he quickly stopped doing it.
He has now used tears wheever p[ossible, which is also not
working anymore.

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1 reply
beasmommom abcstarfox April 13 2014 at 10:20 PM

but the plastic puke bucket is kept near his seat in case he chooses to honor the court further with his drama.

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anniestough7 hankbrilliant April 13 2014 at 10:35 PM

So, what if he did vomit? He probably did it because he realized life as he's known it is over....he's just contemplating the fun time he will have in prison....

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ghislaine April 13 2014 at 9:21 PM

I hope he dies in jail!

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1 reply
Luvucats ghislaine April 13 2014 at 9:34 PM

He hasn't been proven guilty yet.

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1 reply
beasmommom Luvucats April 13 2014 at 11:23 PM

i love your cat picture. what an ornery but sweet little expression!

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JerryG April 13 2014 at 9:28 PM

Would like to believe it but his testimony just defies logic. Tragic.

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dhmosler April 13 2014 at 9:29 PM

What woman staying overnight at her boyfriend's locks the bathroom door when using it in the middle of the night?

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2 replies
WatergirlHawaii dhmosler April 13 2014 at 10:05 PM

One that is desperately trying to escape a raging maniac, by climbing out the closest window...

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anniestough7 dhmosler April 13 2014 at 10:19 PM

what woman staying overnight at her boyfriend's locks the bathroom when using it in the middle of the night? A woman who is running away from the boyfriend who has a dangerous temper and is holding a gun

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