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Pistorius' defense team to wrap up arguments on Friday

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius' defense team will wrap up their closing arguments in the murder trial of the South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete on Friday, after which the judge will retire to consider her verdict.

Double amputee Pistorius, 27, once a national icon for reaching the pinnacle of sport, is accused of murdering his law graduate and model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria on Valentine's Day last year.

Since the trial opened in early March, state prosecutor Gerrie Nel has portrayed Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hothead who deliberately shot 29-year-old Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door where she was taking refuge after a heated argument.

The defense says Pistorius, nicknamed the 'blade runner' after his hi-tech prosthetics, was a vulnerable and caring boyfriend who killed Steenkamp by accident after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind the door.

Nel on Thursday said Pistorius had told "a snowball of lies" and called on Judge Thokozile Masipa to convict the track star of intentional murder, a crime which could land him with a life sentence. A potential lesser charge of culpable homicide could carry a sentence of 15 years.

Lead defense attorney Barry Roux began his closing statement by accusing the state of deliberately avoiding calling witnesses whose evidence would have damaged their case.

He will conclude his final arguments on Friday, after which judge Masipa, who has more than 4,000 pages of evidence to review, will retire to consider her verdict.

There is no jury, and so the verdict hinges on whether Masipa, only the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge, believes Pistorius' version of events.

Steenkamp's dramatic death has shattered the image of Pistorius as an embodiment of triumph over adversity for both his Paralympic victories and his success against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.

(Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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