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S. African Superstar Runner Appears in Court on Murder Charges


Athlete Oscar Pistorius weeps in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb 15, 2013, at his bail hearing in the murder case of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Athlete Oscar Pistorius weeps in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb 15, 2013, at his bail hearing in the murder case of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

South Africa's superstar sprinter Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius arrived in court on Friday to face charges that he murdered his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury home on Valentine's Day.

Two police vehicles arrived at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court, with the amputee athlete sitting in the back of one, his head covered in a jacket. He was expected to apply for bail during the hearing but police have said they would oppose it.

Self-defense?

Professor Steven Tuson, who teaches at the University of Witswaterand's School of Law in Johannesburg, discussed what possibilities could be ahead in a court case, though he emphasized heavily that without all the facts or evidence, little can be concluded.

Videoclip of Pistorius


Tuson says some experts think Pistorius' team will use a self-defense argument.

"Objectively though, he wasn't being attacked," noted Tuson. "It was on the version given that he thought it was an intruder, there can be no actual self defense, as it wasn't an attack. It was his girlfriend surprising him.. And so the defense raised is an interesting one. It's called Putative self defense and that is an intention defense, it goes to his state of mind. The defense is that he honestly and verily believed he was responding to an intruder and defending himself."

Even if that defense is accepted, there will still be questions, Tuson says.

"The second inquiry of the court would be is he guilty of manslaughter or, in our law, culpable homicide? Which is the negligent killing of another person," he explained. "The court, even if it accepts his version that he thought he was being attacked, would examine his conduct, his behavior at the critical moment against the standard of a reasonable man, and ask was he was negligent in discharging his firearm in those circumstances."

Possible sentence

If he is found negligent in any way , Tuson says Pistorius could face prison time.

"If the court finds a small amount of evidence that was causal to the death, this will be reflected in a light sentence. If the court finds his behavior extremely reckless and dangerous in the circumstance, the court will show that with a harsher penalty," said Tuson.


Target practice

Pistorius, who reportedly was a frequent visitor to shooting ranges over the past few years, might be held to a higher standard for pulling the trigger, given his training with firearms.

"The higher you are trained, the greater the competence - you will be held to that greater standard," he said.

Pistorius' status as a national hero - the most recognized man after former President Nelson Mandela - will play a part in this case says Tucon.

"I think it’s a very high profile matter and, therefore, will be given priority in terms of investigation time and resources. And I don't anticipate too much delay," added Tuson.
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