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March 05, 2014

Defense Lawyer Emerges as Star in Pistorius Murder Trial

by Anita Powell

As Oscar Pistorius' trial progresses with explosive testimony from witnesses, attention has gravitated to his bulldog of a defense lawyer, Barry Roux.
 
The star double-amputee athlete stands charged with murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home last year.  Pistorius says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot four times through a locked bathroom door.
 
Pistorius has long lived in the spotlight, overcoming his disability and becoming the first double-amputee to run in the Olympics, at the 2012 London Games.
 
But in recent days, the gray-haired Roux has shared that spotlight.  His cross-examination skills and sharp wit have caught the eye of the world’s media, even leading one British newspaper to dub him a “silver fox.”
 
Some have even compared Roux to O.J. Simpson defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who successfully got the famous American football player acquitted of murder charges in what was then the most-watched trial in U.S. history.
 
That victory was credited in part to his famous rhyme: “If the glove don't fit, you must acquit.”
 
Roux has yet to come up with a catchy phrase like that.  But what he lacks in rhymes he more than makes up for in his cross-examination skills.
 
On Tuesday, he asked witness Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius, the same question eight times in a row in an effort to get her to contradict her testimony.  She held firm in her account that she heard screams, then what sounded like gunshots and more screams, from the athlete’s home the night of the February 14, 2013 shooting.
 
Roux was more successful in dismantling the testimony of Charl Johnson, Burger’s husband.  He tried to cast doubt on his testimony by saying it was too similar to his wife’s account.
 
During an exchange between him and Judge Thokozile Masipa, the judge asked "Aren’t you going a bit too far, Mr. Roux?”
 
Roux challenged that notion, responding that he takes his job seriously.  He then turned, faced the press gallery and looked directly at Pistorius, who sat alone in the large box reserved for the accused.
 
"I'm not talking about lying or not lying.  And I'm trying, in all fairness; a man's life is at stake," Roux said.
 
But he is also quick to acknowledge his limits, and show vulnerability.  When the prosecution introduced witness Kevin Lerena unexpectedly, he asked for a delay to prepare.
 
Lerena, a professional boxer and friend of Pistorius, testified about a January 2013 incident in which he says the star athlete accidentally fired a loaded weapon at an upscale Johannesburg restaurant. 
 
"I don't want to cross-examine a boxer," Roux quipped, prompting laughs from the entire court.
 
Minutes later, Roux said he couldn't be formally interviewed when VOA News approached him and asked about his performance in court.
 
But, when asked if he thought he had been too tough on witnesses, he broke into a wide grin, and responded, "I'm a teddy bear."

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