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February 20, 2013

Pistorius Hearing Continues in Pretoria

by Anita Powell

Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius faces another dramatic day of arguments Wednesday ahead of his trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. It is sure to be South Africa’s most gripping legal case since the end of apartheid.   

There are two accounts of what happened in the wee hours of February 14 at Oscar Pistorius’ lavish Pretoria home.

And in both of them -- the prosecution’s version and that of the defense -- he shot dead his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

In Pistorius’ version, the double amputee heard a noise in the dead of night.  This being crime-ridden South Africa, where violent home invasions are not uncommon, Pistorius grabbed his gun.  He said he was terrified and shot four times through the bathroom door.

Only after that, he says, did he realize his girlfriend was not in the bed.

The prosecution’s side is equally chilling.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel says Pistorius attached his prosthetic legs, walked seven meters to a nearby bathroom and shot four times through the locked door with three rounds hitting Steenkamp.  Nel told the court that Pistorius then broke down the door from the outside, carried her body downstairs, and called a friend to say that he thought Steenkamp was a burglar.

On Tuesday, Pistorius’ team tried to counter that cold-blooded version by presenting accounts from Pistorius’ friends, who painted a picture of a couple that fell head over heels in love within a month of meeting.  They met in November, friends said, and by December, Steenkamp told a girlfriend that if Pistorius proposed marriage, she would probably accept.

That revelation sent the runner into another episode of violent sobbing in the dock.  At one point during the defense argument, Pistorius’ sobbing was so intense that Magistrate Desmond Nair stopped the proceedings and allowed the athlete two minutes to compose himself.

The case has gripped the nation, and the world.  Sports is a South African obsession, and during the last Olympics -- during which Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in the games -- the runner became a powerful emblem of a nation that is still recovering from its own deep wounds.

Outside of the courthouse, members of the women’s league of the ruling African National Congress's chanted, danced and sang, protesting Pistorius' bail hearing and South Africa’s epidemic of violence against women.

Prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku has said the bail hearing could last all week. The prosecution will continue their arguments on Wednesday. But he gave few details of what court-watchers could expect.

"We are not going to say anything more, in as far as the case continued today," he said. "It is because it is still going to continue the bail application, and it is that we are afraid to prejudice the whole process by talking too much and giving information that will end up not allowing the process to run smoothly.”
 
The tale is as dramatic as Pistorius’ own life story: born without fibula bones, he became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics, running in the 400 meters in last year’s London games.  He is nicknamed the 'blade runner' for his carbon fiber prosthetics.

His path to glory has never been easy, but in many ways, this could be the toughest fight of his life.  If convicted in the upcoming trial, he could face life in prison.