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Oscar Pistorius sits in a court in Pretoria, Monday, July 7, 2014, at his ongoing murder trial for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on St. Valentine's Day, 2013. (Ihsaan Haffejee/AP)
Oscar Pistorius sits in a court in Pretoria, Monday, July 7, 2014, at his ongoing murder trial for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on St. Valentine's Day, 2013. (Ihsaan Haffejee/AP)

Defence rests in Pistorius murder trial; final arguments to be held Aug. 7-8 Add to ...

He has sobbed, retched and wailed. His testimony has been punctuated by cries of grief and met with accusations of mendacity. Before the High Court in Pretoria, the South African capital, Oscar Pistorius has been depicted variously as anguished and remorseful, egotistic, enamoured of guns and filled with rage that propelled him to kill his girlfriend last year.

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But on Tuesday, his stop-start murder trial – televised around the world and one of the most sensational since the O.J. Simpson hearings – took a decisive step closer to the moment when Justice Thokozile Matilda Masipa will offer her judgment on which portrayal of Mr. Pistorius, a double-amputee track star, she believes is real.

On the 39th day of hearings since the trial, which was supposed to last only three weeks, opened in March, defence lawyers rested their case and the hearings adjourned to permit both sides to prepare their written arguments before they return to court on Aug. 7 and 8 to make their final oral arguments. A verdict could be in before the end of August, according to reporters in the courtroom who have tweeted every minute detail of the case.

But even as the trial nudged toward its closing stages after testimony from almost 40 witnesses, Mr. Pistorius, 27, was again depicted as a man of contradictions, torn between supreme achievement on the track and a profound sense of private vulnerability away from it.

“Although he loathes to be pitied in any way,” Professor Wayne Derman, a leading South African sports physician, said of Mr. Pistorius, “the hard truth is that he does not have lower legs.”

Dr. Derman, who worked with the runner for several years, including at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, said, “You’ve got a paradox – of an individual who is supremely able and an individual who is significantly disabled.”

The defence argues that Mr. Pistorius’s condition left him hyper-alert to any perceived threat – a factor, his lawyers argue, in his behaviour in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, when he has admitted shooting to death Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law school graduate. The prosecution says he killed her in a jealous rage, but Mr. Pistorius says he shot her by mistake in the belief that an intruder had entered his home.

“This is the night I lost the person I most cared about,” he said, sobbing, in one exchange when he took the stand for five days of gruelling cross-examination in April. “I don’t know how people don’t understand that.”

But the lead prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, known as the “Pit Bull” for his pugnacious manner, was not moved by such protestations. He called Mr. Pistorius a liar, saying at one point that his version of events was “so improbable that it cannot possibly be true.” At another moment in cross-examination, Mr. Nel accused Mr. Pistorius of manufacturing his distress, saying he was “trying to get emotional again.”

As the defence began closing its case, Mr. Nel returned to the attack, assailing the credibility of Dr. Derman’s testimony and telling him: “You are not objective in your evidence before court. You do not want to give an answer that will not benefit the accused.”

Dr. Derman responded, “I do not believe that I am biased.”

The final days of the defense case were overshadowed on some social media sites by leaked images, shown on Australian television, of Pistorius re-enacting his movements between his bedroom and a locked bathroom door on the night of the killing. The defense says the video was filmed as part of preparations for its case, was never meant to be broadcast and was obtained illegally – a charge the Australian broadcaster denied.

The video shows him, unusually, walking uncertainly on the flimsy-looking stumps below his knee where both of his legs were amputated at the age of 11 months because he was born without fibula bones. The image, posted on YouTube, was in marked contrast to the triumphant photographs of Pistorius on the scythe-like running prosthetics that inspired his nickname, “Blade Runner,” when he competed in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

Because there is no jury trial in South Africa, Justice Masipa will consider her judgment with the help of two assessors. The charge of premeditated murder carries a mandatory minimum term of 25 years. The defence seemed Tuesday to be laying the groundwork for a possible appeal if Mr. Pistorius is convicted.

The main defence lawyer, Barry Roux, said several potential witnesses for the defence had not been willing to testify because they “did not want their voices heard around the world.”

Reporters in the courtroom said that was possibly a precursor to an appeal on the grounds that television coverage – highly unusual in South African courts – had jeopardized the fairness of the trial by deterring witnesses. While witnesses were allowed to request that they not be shown on television while testifying, audio transmission has continued throughout the hearings.

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