Defense gets its turn in Pistorius murder trial

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Defense gets its turn in Pistorius murder trial
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius (C) leaves the High Court in Pretoria on 8 August 2014. A verdict in the high profile murder trial of sports star Oscar Pistorius has been set for September 11, after lawyers wrapped up five months of drama-filled proceedings on August 8. Eighteen months after Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013, the star's fate now lies in the hands of South African Judge Thokozile Masipa. AFP PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA SEPTEMBER 4: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Oscar Pistorius arrives at his Uncle's house on September 4, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 21:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) A broken toilet seat from the bathroom where the Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on August 21, 2014 in the house in Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 21:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Bullet holes on the tiles inside the bathroom where the Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on August 21, 2014 in the house in Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 21:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Bullet holes on the tiles inside the bathroom where the Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on August 21, 2014 in the house in Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 21:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) An empty room in the house where the Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on August 21, 2014 in the house in Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 21:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) Inside the bathroom where the Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on August 21, 2014 in the house in Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius is currently awaiting the verdict on his murder trial. Judge Thokozile Masipa will deliver her verdict on September 11, 2014. (Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 8: Oscar Pistorius walks past Reeva Steenkamp's parents in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey - Pool/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8: OBarry Roux gives his closing arguments in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8: Barry Roux gives his closing arguments in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius leaves the Pretoria High Court at the end of the first of two days of concluding arguments on August 7, 2014. A South African prosecutor branded Pistorius 'deceitful' and insisted the Paralympian cannot avoid a conviction for murdering his glamorous model girlfriend, as the state closed its case against him. AFP PHOTO/MuJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8: Oscar Pistorius talks to a member of his defence team, Brian Webber in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey - Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 7: Oscar Pistorius during his murder trial in the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Werner Beukes/Independent Newspapers/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
South African paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius gestures during the presentation of the final arguments of his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on August 7, 2014. Pistorius is accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was fatally shot inside his home. AFP PHOTO/ POOL/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius leaves the Pretoria High Court at the end of the first of two days of concluding arguments on August 7, 2014. A South African prosecutor branded Pistorius 'deceitful' and insisted the Paralympian cannot avoid a conviction for murdering his glamorous model girlfriend, as the state closed its case against him. AFP PHOTO/MuJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius leaves the Pretoria High Court at the end of the first of two days of concluding arguments on August 7, 2014. A South African prosecutor branded Pistorius 'deceitful' and insisted the Paralympian cannot avoid a conviction for murdering his glamorous model girlfriend, as the state closed its case against him. AFP PHOTO/MuJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South African paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius attends the presentation of the final arguments of his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on August 7, 2014. Pistorius is accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was fatally shot inside his home. AFP PHOTO/ POOL/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South African paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius blows his nose during the presentation of the final arguments of his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on August 7, 2014. Pistorius is accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was fatally shot inside his home. AFP PHOTO POOL/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 7 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Oscar Pistorius's father, Henke Pistorius leaves the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius, stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. Closing arguements begin today. (Photo by Herman Verwey/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 7 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Barry Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's father arrives at the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius, stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. Closing arguements begin today. (Photo by Herman Verwey/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
South African paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius (C) arrives to take part in a hearing of his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on August 7 2014. Pistorius is accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was fatally shot inside his home. AFP PHOTO/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 7: Oscar Pistorius during his murder trial in the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Werner Beukes/Independent Newspapers/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius listens to evidence being given in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, April 15, 2014 after questioning by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel, had earlier finished. Pistorius is charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Alon Skuy, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius puts on his jacket as he arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, April 11, 2014. The chief prosecutor laughed scornfully at an answer from Pistorius during the Olympic athlete's murder trial Thursday, mocking the man who shot his girlfriend. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
The bullet-riddled toilet door through which Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Sttenkamp is exhibited in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 14, 2014. The chief prosecutor in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius on Monday accused him of tailoring his version of how he killed his girlfriend to fit evidence at the scene, exhaustively listing alleged inconsistencies in the athlete's account of the fatal shooting of Reeva Steenkamp. (AP Photo/Antoine de Ras, Pool)
South African chief state prosecutor Gerrie Nel questions Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 14, 2014. A judge temporarily adjourned the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius after the athlete started to sob while testifying about the moments before he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his home last year. (AP Photo/Antoine de Ras, Pool)
South African chief state prosecutor Gerrie Nel gestures as he explains a possible scenario into how Oscar Pistorius might have fired on girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 14, 2014. A judge temporarily adjourned the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius after the athlete started to sob while testifying about the moments before he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his home last year. (AP Photo/Antoine de Ras, Pool)
Sister of Oscar Pistorius Aimee Pistorius, center, attends his murder trial as chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel questions Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 14, 2014. Pistorius who is charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013, is being cross-examined at his trial for the fourth day by Nel. (AP Photo/Kim Ludbrook, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for shooting dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel during cross questioning of Oscar Pistorius, in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Pistorius is charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Siphiwe Sibeko, Pool)
Lois and Arnold Pistorius, aunt and uncle of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, cry as he testifies during his ongoing murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, on April 8, 2014. Star Paralympian Oscar Pistorius returned to the witness box at his murder trial on April 8, insisting he and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp had a loving relationship and saw a future together before he shot her dead on Valentine's Day. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIM LUDBROOK (Photo credit should read KIM LUDBROOK/AFP/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 9: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Gina Myers, Reeva Steenkamp's best friend, is overcome with emotion as she listens to Oscar Pistorius' testimony in the Pretoria High Court on April 9, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi - Pool/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Oscar Pistorius hops into the car as a police offer watches the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 24, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Oscar Pistorius, left, with a relative leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 24, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 11 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Oscar Pistorius arrives at the Pretoria High Court on April 11, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius, stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Deaan Vivier/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 11 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Oscar Pistorius arrives at the Pretoria High Court on April 11, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius, stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Deaan Vivier/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 7: scar Pistorius's defence lawyer Barry Roux in the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Werner Beukes/Independent Newspapers/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius (L) reads notes during the lunch break on the first of two days of concluding arguments at the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014. A South African prosecutor branded Pistorius 'deceitful' and insisted the Paralympian cannot avoid a conviction for murdering his glamorous model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, as the state closed its case against him. AFP PHOTO/POOL/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius attends the first of two days of concluding arguments at the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014. A South African prosecutor branded Pistorius 'deceitful' and insisted the Paralympian cannot avoid a conviction for murdering his glamorous model girlfriend, as the state closed its case against him. AFP PHOTO/POOL/MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8: Oscar Pistorius's family in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- For five days, Oscar Pistorius endured a withering cross-examination at his murder trial from a prosecutor who pounced on apparent inconsistencies in his testimony. Yet, legal analysts said Tuesday, expert witnesses who will testify for the defense could undermine the prosecution's efforts to prove Pistorius killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on purpose after an argument.

The demeanor of the Olympian, often fumbling for answers and occasionally breaking into sobs, contrasted with that of prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who called Pistorius a liar and unleashed volleys of barbed questions. Social media buzzed that Pistorius is in deep trouble - a South African talk show host wryly observed that the double-amputee runner had not "covered himself with glory" when his cross-examination ended Tuesday - but experts said the trial has a long way to go.

"Until the defense presents the rest of their case, you can't really evaluate the significance of any potential concessions that he may have made," said Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in the public law department at the University of Cape Town.

The trial, which began March 3 and is expected to hear testimony until mid-May, reached a key stage last week when Pistorius took the stand to testify about the circumstances of Steenkamp's killing in his home before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013. The Paralympic champion, 27, says he shot the 29-year-old model through a closed toilet door after mistaking her for an intruder, but Nel catalogued what he said were conflicts in Pistorius' story that prove he made it up.

The prosecution provided a "very clear narrative for the first time" of what it says happened on the night of Steenkamp's death, Phelps said. The judge, she said, must decide whether Pistorius' inconsistencies were a result of his clumsily trying to polish a story that is true in its fundamentals, or instead revealed an "elaborate cover-up plot" after he murdered his lover.

Phelps said the prosecution accused Pistorius of changing his account mostly on "smaller details" but that he had stuck to the "core parts of his story."

Some commentators have speculated that Pistorius could face a lesser homicide charge that still carries long prison time in the event of a conviction.

Still, during cross-examination, Pistorius gave a sometimes muddled account of the shooting. He said he feared for his life but also didn't intentionally shoot at anyone, prompting Nel to query if his defense was self-defense or "involuntary action."

Inconsistencies in the athlete's testimony include his statement that Steenkamp did not scream when he shot her but later saying his ears were ringing with the first of four gunshots and he would not have heard screams. A vital part of the prosecution's case is the testimony of neighbors who said they heard a woman's terrified screams on the night that Steenkamp died; the defense says they actually heard Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice.

Pistorius' credibility was further challenged by earlier testimony against him for three unrelated gun charges in which he denied any wrongdoing when questioned by Nel. Possibly in his favor was his lack of anger on the witness stand despite the prosecution's picture of him as overbearing and arrogant.

Nevertheless, Marius du Toit, a former state prosecutor, magistrate and now criminal defense lawyer in South Africa, said Nel exceeded his goals in his cross-examination, even goading Pistorius into faulting his legal team while trying to clarify testimony. For example, chief defense lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius fired two quick bursts - the gun owner's terminology for such a burst is "double tap" - but Pistorius said he fired four shots in rapid succession.

Du Toit, however, said the defense, which plans to call up to 17 witnesses, could still make it hard for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison. Du Toit said he wasn't convinced that the prosecution had shown that he intended to kill, noting Pistorius fired roughly level with Steenkamp's mid-section. Prosecution witnesses said the first bullet likely struck her in the hip.

"If you wanted to kill someone, you would shoot in the chest or the head," du Toit said, adding that it was "not all lost" for Pistorius even though the defense has a lot of hard work to do.

That work started right after Pistorius finished testifying. Roux, the defense lawyer, had the runner read out a Valentine's Day card from Steenkamp that she allegedly brought him just before he killed her. In it, she tells Pistorius that she loves him.

Roux then called forensic expert and former police officer Roger Dixon, who contradicted parts of the prosecution's case. Dixon said he conducted tests in Pistorius' bedroom that proved it was very dark there at night, supporting Pistorius' statement that he could not see Steenkamp in his bedroom on the night he killed her, and describing some aspects of the police investigation as "unprofessional."

Phelps, the University of Cape Town lecturer, said Judge Thokozile Masipa could consider the prosecutor's allegation that Pistorius sometimes faked distress in the witness box to wriggle out of a tough question. Otherwise, she said, the athlete's outbursts would not affect the judge, who will deliver a verdict because South Africa does not have a jury system.

"Her recognizing that trauma will have absolutely no bearing on her determination as to what his state of mind was when he was firing the shots," Phelps said.

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