Pistorius accused of lying, rehearsing answers

The athlete faced ruthless cross-examination on the stand from state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Murder accused Oscar Pistorius is escorted out of the High Court in Pretoria on day 10 of his murder trial. Picture: Sebabatso Mosamo/EWN.

PRETORIA - Murder accused Oscar Pistorius has been accused of lying, rehearsing his answers and changing his story to fit new facts.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel spent his first day of cross-examination trying to get the Paralympic and Olympic athlete to admit that he intended to kill when firing four shots through the door of the toilet cubicle at his luxury Silver Woods Country Estate home in Pretoria East.

The athlete is accused of murdering his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

The 27-year-old also faces gun-related charges.

Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all charges during his first appearance on 3 March.

Nel's fierce and aggressive cross-examination, which has earned him the title 'bull terrier', began with the first question and lasted throughout the day.

His approach was likely aimed at unsettling Pistorius and extracting the truth from him.

The prosecutor opened up his cross-examination by asking Pistorius, "You are one of the most recognisable sportsman?"

Pistorius responded, "I was, but I made a mistake."

An aggressive Nel asked Pistorius, "What mistake? You killed Reeva! Take responsibility for killing Reeva. Say it!"

The drama started when Pistorius was asked to explain what he meant by the term "zombie stopper".

A video clip was shown in court of Pistorius firing at a watermelon on a shooting range in which the fruit was seen exploding.

The zombie stopper video report by Sky News

But the athlete said he was referring to a fictional being and not a human.

Nel argued the athlete was testing the effect of the bullets on the watermelon and then pointed out that the result was the same when he shot Steenkamp.

Eventually, he brought Pistorius to tears with a graphic photograph of Steenkamp's bloodied head, her hair drenched in blood and the bullet wound clearly visible.

"For myself, I've taken responsibility. I will not look at a picture where I'm tormented by what I saw and felt that night. As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her hair. I remember, I don't have to look at a picture - I was there," the athlete said.

Pistorius was forced to defend himself over and over again.

"My lady, my memory isn't very good at the moment. I am under a lot of pressure sitting here, it's not easy. I am defending for my life."

But Nel refused to let a single question go unanswered and at one stage, apologised for asking Pistorius why he was emotional at a particular point in his evidence.

The athlete said he had to answer each question carefully as his future depended on it.

"My lady, if I was sitting here and I wouldn't think of every implication of what I say, it would be reckless. My life is on the line. Of course I think of every word I say when I am sitting here."

Nel hit back by pointing out that Steenkamp lost her life because of his actions.

"But Reeva doesn't have a life anymore because of what you've done. She's not alive anymore. So please listen to the questions and give us the truth and not think of implications for you, Mr Pistorius."

Nel told the 'Blade Runner' that discrepancies in the number of fans he claimed he was using in his room and their location proved he was lying.

He challenged the athlete in his ability to recall so much detail, but not the specifics of the moment he pulled the trigger.

"The court will not accept it Mr Pistorius, let's try again."

The prosecutor tackled Pistorius when he refused to give a straight answer, despite repeating the question several times.

Nel told the court that he will deal with numerous such discrepancies during the course of his cross-examination.

Earlier, Pistorius was asked to demonstrate to the court how he kicked the toilet door and broke through it with a cricket bat.

Meanwhile, National Prosecuting Authority head Mxolisi Nxasana says there was nothing unusual about Nel showing the graphic photograph in court.