Pistorius faces fierce cross-examination at murder trial

Johannesburg: South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius faced fierce cross-examination at his murder trial Wednesday as the prosecution tore into his claim that he never intended to kill his girlfriend.

"You made a mistake?" prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel thundered indignantly as he questioned the athlete`s account of Reeva Steenkamp`s death on Valentine`s Day last year.

"You killed a person, that`s what you did! You shot and killed her, won`t you take responsibility for that?" he said just moments into the cross-examination of Pistorius who claimed he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.

Pistorius broke down, as he has done frequently during the five weeks of his high-profile murder trial.

His emotional state and arguments between prosecution and defence lawyers forced a series of adjournments before Nel returned to the court to show footage of the Olympian firing a bullet into a watermelon.

After seeing images of the fruit`s pink flesh exploding through the air and hearing Pistorius remark it was "softer than brains" Nel turned to the witness box.

"You know that`s the same that happened to Reeva`s head," he said, causing a shocked Pistorius to grow more distraught.

Unrelenting, Nel then quickly showed the court a graphic photo of the 29-year-old model`s bloodied head, her blonde hair drenched with dark coagulated blood.

"That`s it," Nel said, turning to Pistorius. "Have a look there, I know you don`t want to because you don`t want to take responsibility."

Growing ever more emotional and affronted, Pistorius said: "Milady I`ve taken responsibility."

"I don`t want to look at a picture where I`m tormented by what I saw," he said wailing through tears.

"I don`t have to look at a picture, I was there," said Pistorius, burying his head into his hands. Pistorius`s cross-examination is expected to be a key point in his trial, a stern test of both his version of events and of his resolve.

During five weeks of proceedings the world-famous athlete has appeared fragile, frequently crying in court and becoming physically sick when the gruesome details of Steenkamp`s injuries were discussed.

He is likely to remain on the stand for the remainder of this week as his extensive testimony is probed and picked at by Nel, who once won a corruption conviction against a South African police commissioner.

The 27-year-old Paralympian earlier wrapped up three days of emotional and harrowing defence testimony by denying he wanted to kill Steenkamp or the intruder he believed had broken into his house on Valentine`s Day last year.

"I did not intend to kill Reeva, my lady, or anyone else," he told the murder trial, in his strongest rebuttal yet of charges against him.

He faces a life sentence if convicted of her murder.

But he could also face a murder conviction if the prosecution shows he intended to kill when his life was not threatened -- regardless of whether he knew who was behind the door.
In calling Pistorius as a witness in his own defence, his handpicked legal team tried to counter the state`s portrayal of him as reckless and obsessed with fast cars and guns.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux gently painted the portrait of a young man who likes dogs and carries out charitable acts, but who was marked by a fatherless childhood, the early death of his mother, physical disability and recurring crime.

Pistorius had described how he met Steenkamp, a vivacious law graduate, and how they quickly grew closer and planned their future together.

He demonstrated remorse by apologising publicly to Steenkamp`s family for what happened, a display that could be presented as a mitigating factor in any sentencing.

Pistorius emotionally recounted how he "was overcome with fear," when he believed an intruder was in his bathroom.

"Before I knew it, I`d fired four shots at the door."

He later gave horrifying testimony about his vain attempts to stem the 29-year-old model`s blood loss and save her life using plastic bags and utility tape.

"I was really trying to stop the bleeding, I was really trying to help Reeva breathe," said Pistorius, still struggling to retain his composure.

"I was trying to hold Reeva`s head with my hand to put pressure on it," he said, outlining the brutal and ultimately fatal results of his gunshots to her hip, arm, hand and head.

"Reeva had already died while I was holding her," he said. "There was nothing more I could do for her."

Pistorius`s testimony also touched on three other unrelated charges: firing a gun through a moving car`s sunroof, then again in a crowded restaurant, and also the possession of illegal ammunition.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux is expected to call up to 15 more witnesses in the remainder of the case, to testify on ballistics, whether Steenkamp urinated, damage to the toilet door, sound, as well as Pistorius`s fear of crime and "vulnerability" on his stumps.

Eventually set down for three weeks, the trial could run until mid-May, possibly even longer.