By GEOFFREY YORK
Saturday, March 8, 2014
JOHANNESBURG -- Follow The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent Geoffrey York as he tweets from Oscar Pistorius's murder trial.
The shock of the Oscar Pistorius murder charge was always its unexplained contrast to his glossy media image. For years, he had been painted in heroic terms: courageous and quietly resolute, a man of huge fearlessness who overcame a double amputation to reach Olympian heights of athleticism.
But at his murder trial this week, an entirely different side of his personality has emerged. Witnesses have portrayed him as arrogant and angry, obsessed with guns, reckless with weapons and willing to lie to save his reputation.
Both sides of his character are on display in the Pretoria courtroom where he faces charges of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year. On the defendant's bench, he is humble, polite, sorrowful and grieving. Yet on the witness stand, the testimony has hinted at a nastier side.
So far, only prosecution witnesses have been heard. A different side of his character will be depicted when the defence builds its own case later. Yet the defence cross-examination this week has failed to shake the witnesses who recounted disturbing incidents of rage, hostility and a sense of being above the law.
Earlier this week, a friend of Mr. Pistorius described how the "Blade Runner" discharged a pistol in a busy restaurant, firing a bullet into the floor, not far from where a child was sitting, and then asked a friend to take the blame for the shooting so that he could avoid any "media hype."
On Friday, another shooting incident was disclosed. One of his ex-girlfriends, Samantha Taylor, testified that Mr. Pistorius fired his 9 mm pistol through a car's open sunroof because he was "irritated" at a policeman who had picked up the pistol after stopping the car for speeding.
Mr. Pistorius is charged with firearms offences for the incidents in the restaurant and the car. He has denied all charges, including the murder charge, saying he mistook Ms. Steenkamp for an intruder.
Ms. Taylor, who started dating Mr. Pistorius when she was 17 and had a relationship with him for most of 2011 and 2012, testified that Mr. Pistorius carried his pistol with him everywhere, slept with the gun at his side at night and was often ready to use it.
Ms. Taylor testified that Mr. Pistorius fired the pistol through the car's sunroof on a road near Johannesburg, a few minutes after a policeman stopped the car. She said his pistol had been visible on a car seat and the policeman picked it up and emptied its magazine, which infuriated Mr. Pistorius. "You're not allowed to touch my gun," he shouted at the policeman.
As they drove away, with Ms. Taylor in the back seat, Mr. Pistorius and his friend in the driver's seat were still angry at the policeman, and they joked about how they should shoot out a traffic light, she said. Then he fired a bullet through the sunroof, making a very loud noise, and the two friends laughed about it, she said.
In a separate incident, she said, Mr. Pistorius brandished his pistol at the window of a car that seemed to be following them home, apparently threatening the driver. And in another incident, she said, he drew the pistol and carried it around in his house when he thought he heard an intruder.
She also described a hot-tempered side of Mr. Pistorius, saying that he had often screamed angrily at her, her sister and her closest friends.
Ms. Taylor said she ended the relationship with Mr. Pistorius in November, 2012, when he "cheated" on her by dating Ms. Steenkamp. They also broke up earlier when he dated another woman, she said.
In other testimony on Friday, a security guard said Mr. Pistorius told him "everything is fine" when the guard phoned his home after the Valentine's Day shooting. The guard, Pieter Baba, said he went to the house a few minutes after the phone call and was shocked to see Mr. Pistorius carrying the fatally wounded body of Ms. Steenkamp down the stairs.