Oscar Pistorius damaged but not destroyed
It has been exhausting just to watch Oscar Pistorius - doubled up on the ropes for hour after hour, heavy arms trying to fend off another clinical combination of lethal jabs and low blows from prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
As the athlete finally slinks wearily back across the court from the witness stand to the dock, he must know that the last five days have done him few favours in this trial.
He has been forgetful, evasive, agitated, uncertain, argumentative, and defiantly - some would say deliberately - ambiguous about some of the key issues at the heart of this murder trial. However well his forensic experts proceed to shore up his testimony in the coming days, his credibility has been damaged.'Buckets of uncertainty'
Inevitably, many people watching the proceedings are resolutely preoccupied with the facts - and the extent to which Mr Nel has cast doubt - or worse - on Mr Pistorius' explanation of his behaviour the night he killed Reeva Steenkamp.
It is understandable. Facts matter. I have been fending off emails from members of the public anxious to unearth some "smoking gun" detail that can resolve this case once and for all.
A man from the US seemed sure that all would be revealed if only it could be established that Mr Pistorius' alarm panel was stained with blood. A woman sought to assure me women "do not" take their mobile phones to the toilet.
But the reality, from my vantage point in the public gallery here, is that there is no "smoking gun" - besides the obviously literal one.
The truth is something only Mr Pistorius knows, and Mr Nel - for all his flamboyant scepticism, disorientation skills, and razor-edged logic - has succeeded only in muddying the waters.
Yes, he has cast buckets of rank uncertainty on the athlete's slumped shoulders. But he has not yet proved beyond all doubt, to my mind, that Mr Pistorius' version "cannot be" - to borrow one of the favourite put-downs of defence lawyer Barry Roux.
Instead, what we are left with is something much more mercurial - and much more compelling.
There are plenty of reasons why this trial has fascinated so many members of the public. A celebrity killer. A beautiful victim. A country often preoccupied by violence. But I suspect that at least part of the fascination is the enduring mystery that lurks at the heart of this trial… and the simple, but perhaps unknowable, question: "What was Mr Pistorius thinking when he pulled that trigger?"
In court, under Mr Nel's ruthless gaze, the Olympic sprinter has tried out half a dozen different versions of an answer - from an accident, to a blameless and unthinking instinct, to a deliberate but non-lethal tactic, to a chance combination of an uncertain aim and a nervous trigger-finger.
Those lawyerly, guilt-evading answers do not seem to have impressed many people.Seed of doubt?
As I outlined in an earlier blog, Mr Pistorius has some reason to embrace ambiguity. He knows that he could be cleared of deliberately killing Reeva Steenkamp, but still be found guilty of intentionally murdering "someone" behind a closed door.
The other issue that has preoccupied me as I have watched Mr Pistorius in the witness box is the timeline of his "mistake." It is a word that he and his family constantly use. But I'm not talking about the few seconds prior to the shooting; rather the months and years before hand.
Mr Nel has built up a powerful portrait of a man with a disdainful attitude to authority, an occasionally aggressive attitude to women, and an extraordinarily entitled and reckless attitude to the pistol he carried with him absolutely everywhere, often cocked.
As Mr Pistorius reflects on the last few days, traumatised as he clearly already is, will he - as he appeared to do in the dying moments of his cross-examination when he resolutely refused to accept "blame" for Ms Steenkamp's death - stick to his belief in his own, ultimate innocence on all these charges? Or has a seed of doubt been sown about the life and the assumptions that led him to this place?
To borrow from a great Russian novel: "If he has a conscience, he will suffer for his mistake."
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