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Pistorius Trial Nears A Verdict


After six months and 4,000 pages of evidence, the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa is headed towards a verdict. Yesterday and today were closing arguments. The 27-year-old Olympian and Paralympic stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend in his home on Valentine's Day last year. Pistorius has maintained that he thought there was an intruder in his home when he shot through the bathroom door, killing Reeva Steenkamp. His lawyer, Barry Roux, argued today that the evidence doesn't prove Pistorius intended to murder his girlfriend.


BARRY ROUX: This allegation of a premeditated or a dolus directus that is so contrary to what I see. It does not make sense.

CORNISH: Yesterday, prosecutor Harry Nel argued that it's impossible not to see the murder as intentional.


HARRY NEL: If you fire four shots into a small cubicle with a high-powered firearm with Black Talon ammunition, you foresee the possibility that you will kill somebody. And you continue doing that. He cannot escape that.

CORNISH: The BBC correspondent Milton Nkosi has been covering the trial in Pretoria. He speaks to us now from outside the courthouse. Milton, welcome to the program.

MILTON NKOSI: Thank you Audie. It's good to be here.

CORNISH: So closing arguments have wrapped up. Let's talk more about what was said. What, essentially, is the argument from prosecutors here?

NKOSI: The prosecutor gave his closing arguments yesterday. And his name is Harry Nel. His nickname is the pit bull. He is known for being ruthless. And he said yesterday, Oscar Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day, knowing full well that it was her behind that closed door in the bathroom.

CORNISH: And for Pistorius, tell us more about what his lawyers had to stay.

NKOSI: On the other side, the defense, who are giving their closing arguments today - they said it was a terrible mistake. They said Oscar Pistorius genuinely thought that there were intruders in the house and he was not just protecting himself. He was also protecting Reeva Steenkamp at the same time. But you've got to remember the context. And as far as the prosecution is concerned, it's important to note that, Oscar Pistorius lives in one of the safest estates in Pretoria, which is a gated community with the top security systems that you can find.

CORNISH: Now, we should explain this is not a jury trial. The judge has said she'll hand down a verdict on September 11. If Oscar Pistorius is found guilty, what are the sentencing options?

NKOSI: Well, if Oscar Pistorius is found guilty of premeditated murder that sentence here, in the South African criminal justice system has a minimum sentence of 25 years. But if he's then convicted of culpable homicide, manslaughter if you like, then that has a maximum of 15 years and that depends on the circumstances, which the judge would look into. And then, perhaps, come up with a sort of suitable sentence, depending on what the evidence is against the accused.

CORNISH: You know, Oscar Pistorius, major celebrity athlete, known as Blade Runner for the prosthetic legs he used on the track. And I know this trial's become a national fixation for South Africa. How has public opinion kind of shifted and changed throughout this trial?

NKOSI: Well, you know, pretty much like the O.J. Simpson trial. Everyone has turned into a lawyer and a judge in South Africa. Families have been split down the middle, across dinner tables, debating whether Oscar Pistorius is guilty of murder or not. There is a sense that Oscar Pistorius cannot escape, at least, the charge of culpable homicide, of manslaughter. Even if he did not intend to kill Reeva Steenkamp, per se, he was shooting at the door, thinking that there was a human being behind the door.

CORNISH: That's BBC correspondent Milton Nkosi, speaking to us from Pretoria, the scene of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

NKOSI: Thank you very much, Audie. It's always good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.