World and Nation

Prosecutor describes Pistorius as self-centered and bullying

After a day of intense courtroom confrontation and emotion, the athlete Oscar Pistorius returned to the stand for a fourth straight day on Thursday to face new questions from a dogged prosecutor intent on depicting him as narcissistic, self-centered and bullying, so intent on self-gratification that he ignored the feelings of the dead woman’s family.

“It’s all about I, it’s all about Mr. Pistorius,” the state prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, told the athlete, challenging him to explain why he had used the first day of his testimony on Monday to offer an apology to Steenkamp’s family. “You never thought about them. You never thought how they would feel,” Nel said.

“You are not sorry that you killed their daughter,” Nel said.

“I’m terribly sorry that I took the life of their daughter,” Pistorius replied. In the public gallery, June Steenkamp, the victim’s mother, looked on impassively.

Going through telephone messages between the couple line by line, Nel pointed to one in which Pistorius had mocked her for making “annoying” accents. In one exchange, he told her to stop chewing gum in public.

“You picked on her incessantly,” Nel said. “It’s all about you,” he said repeatedly. “It’s all about Mr. Pistorius. That is what your relationship was all about.” He added: “Reeva believed you treated her very badly.”

“Apart from ‘I miss you,’ boo hoo hoo, you never wrote a long message saying how you felt about her,” Nel said. “Your messages were only about you.”

Pistorius, 27, has denied a charge of premeditated murder, which carries a minimum 25-year jail term, saying he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake, believing an intruder at his home was about to attack him when he fired four rounds from a handgun through a locked bathroom door while she was inside. Pistorius, a double amputee track star who competes on scythe-like prosthetic blades and who is the world’s best-known disabled athlete, faced Nel for the first time Wednesday. The prosecutor’s tactics have earned him the nickname “the pit bull.”

The trial, in the South African capital, Pretoria, is being broadcast live, although Pistorius is kept off-camera under an earlier court ruling From the start, Nel set a pugnacious tone, challenging Pistorius to take responsibility for the killing, goading him in an attempt to undermine his composure and producing video images that showed him blasting a head-size watermelon with high-powered ammunition.

Then, in a move that brought gasps to the courtroom, Nel taunted Pistorius with a photograph of the bloodied, shot-open head of Steenkamp.

“That’s it — have a look, Mr. Pistorius!” the prosecutor said as Pistorius sat, stunned, in the witness box, seeming to crumple in on himself. “I know you don’t want to, because you don’t want to take responsibility, but it’s time that you look at it. Take responsibility for what you’ve done, Mr. Pistorius.”

But the runner refused to look. “I’m tormented by what I saw and felt that night,” he said. “As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head. I remember. I don’t have to look at a picture. I was there.”

After the hours of cross-examination, Pistorius seemed drained but Nel left him in no doubt that there was more to come. “I’m not going to go away,” the prosecutor told the athlete. True to his word, Nel dwelled at length Thursday on social media messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp, returning repeatedly to the assertion that, in his relationship with Steenkamp, “It’s all about Mr. Pistorius.”

“Part of me was jealous and insecure,” Pistorius said.

Nel was apparently seeking to neutralize the effort of earlier testimony in which Pistorius depicted his relationship with Steenkamp, a law graduate, model and budding reality TV star, as warm and loving. Instead, reading line-by-line from messages taken from their cellphones, he depicted Pistorius as a man who found fault with Steenkamp and persistently blamed others for mishaps.

Nel said he found the words “I love you” only twice in text messages on Steenkamp’s phone, both times addressed to her mother. “Never to you and you never to her,” the prosecutor told Pistorius, accusing him of treating her badly, then apologizing.

Apart from the murder charge, Pistorius also faces charges related to possessing firearms, and the prosecution has sought to portray him as reckless and trigger-happy. In one case, he is accused of shooting a gun out of the open sunroof of a car. In another, he is accused of firing a handgun in a busy restaurant.

Pistorius told the court that he was a gun enthusiast who had grown up in a family where his parents had guns.