Oscar Pistorius trial to take a lengthy break

Pretoria: The judge in the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the disabled track star accused of murdering his girlfriend, said on Wednesday that proceedings would be postponed after hearings end on Thursday, until May 5, two days before South Africa's national election.

Oscar Pistorius (centre) leaves the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. The court has adjourned until May 5. Picture: AFP

Oscar Pistorius (centre) leaves the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. The court has adjourned until May 5. Picture: AFP

The prosecution had sought the postponement on Tuesday to avoid scheduling conflicts with other cases. The Pistorius trial has already run far beyond the three weeks scheduled when it opened in early March, and has generated 2000 pages of detailed testimony, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa said.

While May 5 may not be a "suitable" date because it comes so close to the elections, Masipa said, "we are pressed for time."

"An accused is entitled to speedy justice," the judge added.

The prosecution said on Tuesday that it wanted to attend to other cases, in which the accused were in detention. Pistorius, 27, is free on bail.

The athlete has denied that he deliberately killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of February 14, 2013, when he opened fire on her through the locked door of a bathroom.

He has said he believed at least one intruder was behind the door, but the prosecution contends the couple had an argument.

The case resumed on Wednesday, a day after Pistorius ended a harrowing seven days on the witness stand, facing repeated accusations from the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, that he had concocted testimony to produce a version of events so improbable as to be untrue.

The defence then called a forensics expert and former police officer, Roger Dixon, who has challenged the prosecution's account of how the four hollow-point rounds were fired. The defence wants to show that the bullets were fired in such quick succession that Ms Steenkamp would not have had time to scream.

The prosecution argues that neighbours heard a woman screaming on the night of the killing.

As  Professor Dixon went into a detailed reconstruction of how he said the bullets were fired and ricocheted, Pistorius bowed forward in the dock and appeared to be retching, as he has done on several previous occasions during testimony relating to Ms Steenkamp's injuries.

Professor Dixon said wood splinters found in one of Ms Steenkamp's wounds suggested that she was standing close to the door when the first shot was fired.

Under cross-examination by Mr Nel, who challenged Professor Dixon's credentials, the expert said he had no training in ballistics or blood spatter analysis and was a geologist by training.

Professor Dixon said he had conducted tests to compare the sound of a toilet door being struck with a cricket bat and the sound of a gunshot. With heavy sarcasm, Mr Nel questioned the skills Professor Dixon had brought to the tests.

"It seems the skill you used was wielding a cricket bat," Mr Nel said, but Professor Dixon disputed the assertion.

New York Times