UK & World News

  • 11 April 2014, 7:26

Pistorius: Hero Or Trigger-Happy Egotist?

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has put "character" at the heart of his bruising cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius.

In his quick-fire questioning he has sought to expose the athlete as self-centred, short-tempered, gun-obsessed and eager to shirk responsibility for his actions.

It is a familiar strategy in any murder trial, but in this case the man in the witness box is famous around the world.

Before the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius was best known for his achievements on the running track and his triumph over his disability.

In South Africa he was revered as a hero and praised for his charity work.

Brands including Nike showered him with lucrative endorsement contracts, keen to be associated with the 'bladerunner' and his remarkable story.

Then came his arrest for murder and millions of people who had never met the athlete but still thought they knew him were left wondering whether the gilded image of Pistorius bore any relation to the truth.

Those watching the trial have now been presented with two versions.

The defence lawyers guided the athlete through his life story in the witness box; his double amputation as a baby, his devastation at the loss of his mother as a teenager and his overwhelming fear of crime exacerbated by his disability.

But the prosecution says Pistorius is a trigger-happy egotist, prone to throwing tantrums, whose girlfriend was scared of him in the weeks before he shot her dead.

Repeatedly, Mr Nel has urged him to "tell the truth" and "take responsibility", punctuating the runner's answers with exasperated sighs.

Pistorius has broken down in tears several times, but he has also displayed irritation and frustration during the cross-examination - exactly what Gerrie Nel seems to be trying to provoke.

In the absence of any eye witnesses or conclusive forensic evidence in this case, the key question has become: who is Oscar Pistorius?

The defence argues that he is a man who - in fear of his life - fired his gun thinking he was protecting himself and his girlfriend from an intruder.

The prosecution claims he is a murderer who has constructed an elaborate network of lies to cover up the deliberate killing of his girlfriend.

The judge will decide which version of the shooting - and the athlete's character - is closest to the truth.

Either way, the public perception of Pistorius, once the golden boy of South Africa, has irreversibly changed.

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