Pretorius – The chief prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, Gerrie Nel, gets another go at the disgraced Paralympian when his cross-examination goes into its second week on Monday.
Nel, often likened to a bulldog, fired another tough question at Pistorius on Friday.
“Are you sure, Mr Pistorius, that Reeva did not scream after you fired the first shot?” asked Nel.
The athlete, who earlier said he was tired and struggling under the relentless interrogation, leaned back in the witness box and remained silent. The courtroom was hushed and expectant.
Was Pistorius thinking through an answer, or was he on the verge of an emotional outburst, or was he reflecting on his predicament and Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he killed in his home last year?
After a tense pause, the Olympic athlete said he wished Steenkamp had let him know she was in the toilet cubicle where he shot her – by mistake, according to his account. He said she did not scream, but also that his ears were ringing with the gunshot and he would not have heard screams.
Pistorius often seemed worn down as the caustic prosecutor picked holes in parts of his story. The dramatic cross-examination has drawn attention to Nel in local media and on social networks for his combative, often effective style.
One of the highlights of his career came in 2010 when he secured the conviction on corruption charges of former police commissioner and ex-Interpol chief Jackie Selebi. Nel got an international prosecutors’ award for his efforts in that case.
Now Nel’s international profile is ascending further after three days of challenging and even ridiculing the claim by Pistorius, 27, that he accidentally killed Steenkamp, 29, by firing through a closed toilet door, mistaking her for an intruder in his house before dawn on 14 February 2013.
The prosecution says the double-amputee runner is lying, and that he killed his girlfriend after an argument during which she fled into the toilet cubicle to seek refuge.
A radio station made a parody rap song about defence lawyer Barry Roux, and now Nel has one too (“They call me Gerrie Nel/And I am mad as hell.”)
In The Times, cartoonist Zapiro depicted Nel as a bullet, his head on the tip, speeding toward an alarmed Pistorius.
“You will blame anybody but yourself,” Nel told Pistorius last week in an attack on the character of the athlete.
It was an attempt to shred the defence’s presentation of its client as humble, responsible and loving toward the woman he killed.
At one point, Nel laughed derisively at one of a number of answers from Pistorius that he described as evasive or contradictory, or downright false, prompting Judge Thokozile Masipa to reprimand the prosecutor for the outburst.
On another occasion, Masipa cautioned Nel to “mind your language” for accusing the athlete of lying.
Surrounded by security, Pistorius daily leaves the Pretoria court to fend his way through a crush of press and bystanders.
On a recent afternoon, Nel left the court quietly, unassuming in a dark suit and open-necked shirt. Despite his new-found celebrity status, he walked across the street, almost unnoticed.