News / Africa

Defense Lawyer Emerges as Star in Pistorius Murder Trial

Oscar Pistorius talks with attorney Barry Roux, left, on the second day of trial, Pretoria, March 4, 2014.
Oscar Pistorius talks with attorney Barry Roux, left, on the second day of trial, Pretoria, March 4, 2014.
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."

  • Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, April 14, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 10, 2014.
  • Jane Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother is comforted by a relative after her dead daughter's picture was shown on screen during the trial of Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 9, 2014.
  • Family members, including uncle Arnold Pistorius, right, cry as they listen to Oscar Pistorius testifying in court in Pretoria, April 8, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius becomes emotional during his trial at the high court in Pretoria, April 7, 2014.
  • Members of the public crowd around Oscar Pistorius as he leaves the high court, Pretoria, March 12, 2014.

  • Oscar Pistorius cries as he prays with his sister Aimee and brother Carl at his indictment at the magistrates court in Pretoria, August 19, 2013.
  • This aerial image taken from video provided by VNS24/7 shows the home of Oscar Pistorius in a gated housing complex in Pretoria, Feb. 14, 2013.
  • Olympian runner Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius celebrates winning the men's 400 meter final during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sept. 8, 2012.

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by: MzSugah from: Florida
March 06, 2014 10:24 AM
No one can say what they will do in any given situation of a perceived danger...some freeze, some react as Pistorius had by shooting first and looking afterwards. Whatever happened that evening he murdered her. He might have shouted thru that closed door fist.I do think most people would have checked by reaching a hand out across the bed to see if their sleeping companion was safely there before moving elsewhere. That is supposition but I think most people would do just that..Sadly, I think he is guilty altho it was not premeditated., it was a loss of temper.

by: jcscott125
March 05, 2014 12:02 PM
I gotta be honest, I find Roux really obnoxious and don't think he's doing that great a job either. I don't think asking a witness the same question 8 times in a row is an admirable tactic, it's more like beating on someone with a baton until they say what you want them to say or start bawling, whatever comes first. If a husband and wife are in the same room of the same house at the same time and they hear the same event, why in God's name would you expect their accounts to differ substantially from one another? Finally, he contradicted his own cross examination on day 2 by pointing out that the first bullet fired hit her finger first because it was in front of her face to protect her head, that the finger shot was a defensive wound basically. But why would you cower to protect yourself from a bullet you're not expecting? The only reasonable conclusion is that it's because they were fighting and Pistorious was screaming threats at her. Can't stand Roux, he's a petulant bully and he's going to lose.

by: Piet Stassen from: South Africa
March 05, 2014 11:33 AM
OSCAR PISTORIUS TRIAL: If the sounds that the witness Burger had heard over the alleged distance of 177 meters were really that of cricket-bat blows and not that of gunshots, how come witness Burger is audio-metrically gifted enough to have heard cricket-bat blows on a door 177 meters away but not to have heard the fatal gunshots from a lethal 9 mm gun 177 meters away? After all, if no shots were fired how did Reeva sustain those wounds? And, if shots were fired, does it not stand to reason that someone would have heard it? j(2) I think Attorney Barry Roux's defence arguments on Day 1 did not make much sense and he was badgering the witness unfairly as if the witness is an imbecile.

by: greg from: connecticut
March 05, 2014 10:27 AM
If he thought it was an intruder then he's an idiot. People need to stop shooting first. Too many crazy people with guns.

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