What we don’t know in the Pistorius case

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 in the midst of an argument?

Here’s a look at the main points of contention at Pistorius’ murder trial:

SCREAMS OR SILENCE?

Prosecutors say that the testimonies from several neighbors who said they heard a woman scream before and during the fatal gunshots shows that Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp were fighting in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Prosecutors assert that Pistorius is lying about mistaking his girlfriend for an intruder and that she ran to bathroom yelling before she was shot.

Pistorius’ defense says the argument never happened and will call closer neighbors who did not hear a woman scream.

The athlete says Steenkamp never screamed or even spoke to him to let him know where she was in the moments leading up to the fatal shooting through a closed toilet door.

But the double-amputee Olympian also stated during his testimony that the first of four shots he fired caused his ears to ring and he couldn’t hear anything. Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel pounced on the detail as proof Pistorius couldn’t claim Steenkamp never screamed during the shots — even according to his own story — because he wouldn’t have heard her anyway.

SEEING AND HEARING

Key to Pistorius’ defense is that he never saw or heard Steenkamp get up from the bed to go to the bathroom and therefore Pistorius did not know she was in the toilet stall when he fired with his 9 mm pistol, hitting the model in the hip, arm and head. Prosecutor Nel challenged that claim by referring to a small light that was on in the bedroom, saying he would have noticed her movement if, as Pistorius says, the light was bright enough to disturb his sleeping. Nel also argued that if he heard a bathroom window sliding open, alerting him to a possible intruder, he would have also heard Steenkamp first move from the bed because that was much closer to him.

DUVET POSITION: SIGNS OF A FIGHT?

Prosecutors say a duvet shown lying on the bedroom floor in police photos indicates the couple were fighting and not in bed as Pistorius claims. Pistorius says the duvet was moved off the bed by police investigators after the shooting. Contamination of the scene by police is one of the defense’s main arguments. Nel says the positions of the duvet, a pair of jeans partially on top of it, a fan in front of the balcony doors and the curtains wide open all are problematic for his story, which police didn’t know at the time, and claiming evidence tampering to that extent is far-fetched.

PISTORIUS’ MISTAKES

In a possibly critical moment Friday, the judge who will decide the verdict in the murder trial noted that Pistorius was making “all these mistakes” during testimony. Pistorius said the little inconsistencies were because he was tired. Judge Thokozile Masipa said it was important that he say if fatigue was affecting his evidence, but her observation gave a rare insight into how she might be viewing proceedings.

OTHER LIES?

Pistorius’ good character has been placed front and center by the defense as an indication that he wouldn’t have intentionally shot his girlfriend. Prosecutors have produced a series of incidents to show he is not the perfect role model, including when he allegedly fired a gun in a public place on two occasions and denied responsibility.

Pistorius also testified Friday that he was once shot at by someone in another car on a highway in 2008 or 2009. Pistorius said he turned off the highway and phoned a friend but when Nel asked him who, he said he couldn’t recall. He also conceded he never reported it to police. Nel said that’s because it never happened and the story indicated how far Pistorius would go to lie to show he had a fear of being attacked to back up his explanation for shooting Steenkamp.

———

Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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