On Thursday, it will be 157 days since Oscar Pistorius stepped into the North Gauteng High Court’s courtroom GD for his murder trial. OMPHITLHETSE MOOKI looks at some of the main points of the case so far.
MARCH 3: It is 11.33am and Judge Thokozile Masipa swears in her two assessors – Janette Henzen du Toit and Themba Mazibuko – sitting on either side of her. State prosecutor Gerrie Nel reads Oscar Pistorius his charges before a packed courtroom GC and the athlete pleads not guilty to all charges against him – premeditated murder and three charges for contravening Section 120 of the Firearms Controls Act: discharging a firearm at a packed Tashas restaurant, firing shots through the sunroof of his car and keeping bullets in his house when not licensed to do so. First witness, Michelle Burger, then takes the witness stand, tells the court of “blood curdling” “petrified” screams she heard in the early hours of Valentines Day last year.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel. Credit: AP
MARCH 7: Neighbour Johan Stipp testifies of how he had walked into Pistorius’ home to find Pistorius kneeling besides Steenkamp’s body, crying “please don’t let her die” and promising to give his life to God if He was to “let her live”.
MARCH 10: State pathologist Professor Gert Saayman tells the court partially digested food in Steenkamp’s stomach suggested she ate two hours before her death, casting doubt on Pistorius’ version that he and Steenkamp had gone to bed at about 10pm on February 13.
MARCH 12: At exactly 9.56am the State’s 12th witness Lieutenant-Colonel Johannes Gerhardus Vermeulen takes the stand and finally, the door dismantled from Pistorius’ toilet cubicle to be used as an exhibit in court gets some attention.
He tells the court Pistorius was on his stumps when he bashed the door with a cricket bat but gets grilled under cross- examination for failing to test Pistorius’ prosthetic legs to verify his version that he had kicked the door, and for also overlooking marks on the door – the sock fibre embedded on the door.
MARCH 13: Highly emotional day of tears and retching for Pistorius as former police colonel Giliam Schoombie van Rensburg takes the stand, giving graphic details of a trail of blood he had followed from the ground floor of the athlete’s house, up the stairs till he got to a pool of blood around the toilet seat – the place where Steenkamp lay slumped on the toilet bowl.
MARCH 15: An embarrassing day for the police – details emerge of how police officers at the bloodied murder scene had walked around Pistorius’ bedroom like children in a candy store, helping themselves to a wristwatch worth between R50 000 and R100 000. All doors had to be locked and body searches were conducted on people who had gone to the scene to investigate, not to be investigated, Van Rensburg told the court.
This after dropping another bombshell days earlier – “When I turned around another forensic guy had the gun in his hands without gloves. I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ “
MARCH 17: It’s firearms 101 as Sean Patric Rens, the man Pistorius approached to buy firearms, takes the stand. He lists firearm-handling rules Pistorius had undertaken to comply with – always know your target and what lies beyond, never fire into the air, always keep your finger off the trigger, and do not handle unnecessarily.
MARCH 20: Police ballistics expert Captain Christian Mangena disputes Pistorius’ version that shots were fired in quick succession, corroborating neighbour Michelle Burger’s evidence that there had been a pause between the shots.
MARCH 24: Whatssap messages Steenkamp sent Pistorius are read in court: “I’m scared of you sometimes. Of how you snap at me and react to me. I’m the girl who gets side-stepped when you are in a s**t mood. I get snapped at and told my accent and voices are annoying.”
MARCH 28: The prosecution closes its case, filling journalists with excitement as they look forward to Pistorius’ time on the witness stand.
MARCH 29: Judge Masipa bursts the bubble: “We cannot proceed this morning and cannot sit next week. One of my assessors is not well, so this court is not properly constituted.” Case postponed to April 7.
APRIL 7: Pistorius takes the witness stand for the first time and in a quivering voice, with tears streaming down his face, he apologises to parents of his murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp: “Mrs (June) Steenkamp, I’d like to apologise.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family. When I wake up you are the first people I think of and pray for. I can’t imagine the pain, emptiness and sorrow I caused your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise when she went to bed that night she felt loved. I tried to put my thoughts on paper, but no words would ever suffice,” he said.
He speaks of his depression, how he takes a cocktail of drugs to be able to sleep: “I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night. When I wake up I can smell blood. I wake up terrified.”
APRIL 9: Stunned silence in courtroom GC except for the piercing cries from the witness stand. Tears flow, sister Aimee, uncle Arnold and his wife Lois … they all cry. Pistorius is inconsolable, the court adjourns and he continues howling loudly outside in the corridor. It was a video footage of him at a shooting range with friends, shooting at watermelons that prompted Prosecutor Gerrie Nel to ask: “Did you see what happened to the watermelon? It exploded! That’s what happened to Reeva’s head. Look at the picture (of Reeva’s bloodied head shown in court) … look at it.” Pistorius’ response was: “I won’t look at the picture and be tormented. I don’t need to look at the picture I was there. I don’t need to see the picture”.
MAY 12: Nel suggests that Pistorius be sent for mental observation after forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryl Vorster says the athlete had a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), saying a person like him could be a danger to society if armed with a gun as he was more likely to face the danger than flee.
MAY 20: Judge Masipa rules that Pistorius be observed for 30 days by a panel of three psychiatrists and a psychologists at Pretoria’s Weskoppies psychiatric hospital.
JUNE 30: The mental evaluation report rules out GAD, further saying that at the time of the offence, Pistorius did not suffer from any mental disorder that would affect his ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
JUNE 30: The orthopaedic surgeon who amputated Pistorius’ legs, Gerhard Versveld, testifies of the difficulty with which Pistorius moved on his stumps, impairing his ability to flee. Nel questioned his objectivity as he has known Pistorius from when he was still a baby.
JULY 8: Defence advocate Barry Roux tells the court he struggled to get some witnesses to testify as they did not want their voices to be all over the world, and then closes his case.