Durban - Oscar Pistorius’s trial for the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp is likely to cost the State more than R50 million, say experts.
The gold medallist’s next court appearance is on June 4. He shot and killed his girlfriend in his Pretoria East home on Valentine’s Day.
The Blade Runner maintains that Steenkamp’s death was a tragic accident, insisting that he thought she was a burglar. She died at the scene after she was shot three times through a locked bathroom door.
Pistorius, who faces life imprisonment if he is found guilty, has been released on R1m bail with strict conditions.
The athlete has engaged top legal council and expert witnesses in a desperate attempt to secure his freedom.
A well-placed source told the Sunday Tribune the trial was likely to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, which has jurisdiction over the area in which the alleged crime was committed.
“It is impossible to say which high court judge will hear the matter, but it is highly likely that the judge president will appoint a judge with a track record of experience with high-profile criminal matters,” the source said.
The source, who is close to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), described the case as “complex” because of the nature of the crime.
“From the outset this will not be a straightforward matter, chiefly because the legal issues at play are complicated.
“This is compounded by the fact that there is mounting attention from local and international media, which makes the case difficult to manage,” he said.
“The legal cost from the bail application alone has exceeded R1m, if one considers the resources that the State has devoted to the case, in terms of counsel, expert witnesses and forensic testing.
“This cost will be dwarfed by the total price of the trial, which may rise above R50m,” he added.
Another independent source within the NPA, who wished to remain anonymous, verified that this figure was plausible.
The source insisted that while Pistorius was to appear again in June, the matter would probably only be set down for trial next year.
“I don’t expect this matter to be heard this year. The challenges which force this process to be extended is obviously finding space in the justice’s calendar and then allowing sufficient time for the State and the defence to prepare their cases, essentially doing all of the prep work.
“The trial itself will probably take at least 30 court days, and with scheduling and adjournments could potentially be spread out longer than six months,” he added.
The insider said that it would be up to the presiding judge to determine whether the case was in the public interest.
“He will obviously hear applications to have the trial broadcast, something that I am certain Oscar’s defence will oppose. The last thing that he will want is to have those images beamed around the world.”
Veteran prosecutor Gerrie Nel has been tipped to argue the case for the State.
“Nel will likely prosecute the case for the State. He is very experienced and considered the NPA’s top gun. If he is unable to continue for any reason, another prosecutor will be appointed, as long as it does not prejudice the trial,” he said.
NPA spokesman Medupi Simasiku would not comment, saying the director of public prosecutions had placed a media embargo on all media queries relating to the trial.
“We have decided to refrain from commenting on this trial. It is a sensitive matter which has received much attention and any information released at this stage would only be detrimental,” he said.
University of KwaZulu-Natal dean of law Professor Managay Reddi said the minimum sentence Pistorius could expect if found guilty was life behind bars.
“Depending on the circumstances of the case, the minimum sentence for premeditated murder could be life imprisonment. If he is found guilty on the lesser charge of culpable homicide, there is no minimum sentence that has to be imposed. This will be at the discretion of the court after it has carefully considered all the circumstances of the killing,” she said, adding that Pistorius’s R1m bail would be returned to him, irrespective of the outcome.
“The R1m will be returned regardless of a conviction or acquittal.
“The only time it may not be returned will be if he evades his trial.
“Based on normal practice, the current bail conditions are likely to be sustained until the trial has ended. Should the defence wish to have the conditions relaxed at any stage, they would make an application for such a change, on good grounds shown,” said the professor.