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Oscar Pistorius trial: athlete 'a desperate man', say legal experts

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Oscar Pistorius leaves the court on Thursday.

Oscar Pistorius leaves the court on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Pretoria: Oscar Pistorius did himself more harm than good when he took the witness stand, say South African lawyers.

Throughout five gruelling days on the witness stand, the Paralympic gold medallist contradicted himself, a nail in the coffin for his defence, said lawyers watching the case.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel during his cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel during his cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius. Photo: AP

Initially, Mr Pistorius said he believed he was under attack by an intruder when he fired four shots at the toilet door. That strategy sought protection for the use of deadly force under the principle of self-defence. But in his cross-examination, the 27-year-old athlete changed his testimony to say he fired the shots at the door accidentally.

His testimony went downhill the moment he took the stand, said Johannesburg-based criminal lawyer Martin Hood.

"He went into a dangerous situation with his firearm, safety disengaged, and he proceeded down the passage in what he described as a tactical manner," Mr Hood said. "So all of his decisions were conscious, intentional decisions."

Mr Pistorius blamed his legal team for inconsistencies between his accounts and claimed police moved key pieces of evidence that appeared to incriminate him, a sign, observers said, that he had abandoned his legal team's strategy.

"He suddenly went on his own, he now got angry with [prosecutor Gerrie] Nel and he now is going to take him on," said William Booth, a criminal lawyer. "I think it's a desperate man."

The star sprinter made textbook mistakes in the witness stand, said Mr Booth, saying Mr Pistorius was evasive, did not answer questions and was argumentative.

"His lawyer tried in re-examination very briefly to resurrect things, but I think he was probably sensible to leave alone," said Mr Booth, speaking from Cape Town. "I think in retrospect they're probably regretting calling him as a witness, but the point is that he had to testify in his defence - he was the only witness to the incident."

AFP

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