Oscar trial: the reckoning begins

Crime & Courts

Pretoria - Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius will stand in the dock in Pretoria on Monday to face a charge of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

This opens the decisive chapter in the story of the rise and fall of one of the world’s most recognisable athletes.

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ON TARGET: Oscar Pistorius aims and fires in this still from video footage of him firing a pistol at a watermelon. Sky News did not specify when or where the video was shot. Picture: SKY NEWS28/02/2014. Technicians set up broadcasting equipment that will be used during the Oscar Pistorius trial which starts on 3 March.

Picture: Masi Losi

And the Pretoria High Court will be ready and waiting for the huge crowds expected to descend to catch a glimpse of the Blade Runner. Yesterday, the building was a hive of activity, with cables being laid and television screens being set up in the overflow court. The roar of drilling drowned out any possibility of proceedings continuing in the ground floor courtrooms.

On hand to check everything was going smoothly was Gerrie Nel, leader of the prosecution team, who would say only that they would kick off with the murder charge when proceedings began. He said he was checking on technicians, to ensure everything is ready when the eyes of the world turn to Pretoria.

Nel would say nothing more, including about who would first take the witness stand.

While Pistorius claims the fatal shooting of Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year was a terrible accident, Nel will set out to prove it was murder.

Barring a last-minute change of heart, the 27-year-old Pistorius will enter a plea of “not guilty”, repeating his bail hearing assertions that he killed Steenkamp after tragically mistaking her for an intruder hiding in the toilet.

It will be the job of Nel and his team to seek to prove that Pistorius fired four rounds from a 9mm pistol through the door of the toilet adjoining the bedroom of his luxury home in a deliberate attempt to kill whoever was behind it.

Pistorius has already admitted to culpable homicide, a crime that could see him put away for 15 years. Or he could leave the court a free man, with no more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence.


Meanwhile, Sky News upped the drama factor yesterday when the channel broadcast newly-released video footage of Pistorius firing a shotgun and using a pistol to shoot a watermelon, which bursts on impact. Delighted screams and laughter are heard in the background.

Sky News also broadcast audio of a man it says “sounds very much” like Pistorius commenting on the shattered watermelon:

“It’s a lot softer than brain but… it’s like a zombie stopper.”

The video of Pistorius – Sky News did not say when or where it was taken – shows him wearing sunglasses and gun-range headphones. Springbok rugby player Francois Hougaard is also seen shooting alongside Pistorius in the video.

Yesterday, court and justice officials rushed in and out of both the main and the overflow courts to oversee work being completed, while several members of the foreign media were there to familiarise themselves with what will be their home for the next few weeks.

While the Pistorius trial has been set down for three weeks, it is understood that Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo has given the go-ahead for the trial to run until it is concluded.

Advocates, judges and court staff all wandered over to the two courtrooms in question, and admitted they were hoping to get a glimpse of the Blade Runner next week.

One judge did, however, express some apprehension at the media hype and cameras being set up. It was an ordinary murder trial, he said, the same as any he has often presided over.

The big difference is the accused is a world famous athlete, and the victim a beautiful model. “But I suppose that is what makes headlines,” the judge said.

Outside on Madiba Street the atmosphere almost suggested a carnival. Broadcast trucks lined the streets as foreign media houses cordoned off space.

Weekend Argus

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