News / Africa

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.
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— 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

S. African Superstar Runner Appears in Court on Murder Chargesi
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February 15, 2013
Olympic track-star Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears as he appeared in court Friday to face charges of killing his fashion-model girlfriend, in a high-profile murder case that has stunned South Africans.

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.

  • Olympic and Paralympic running star Oscar Pistorius stands during court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court, August 19, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius cries as he prays with his sister Aimee and brother Carl in the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, August 19, 2013.
  • A man holds signs ahead of the court proceedings of Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius at the Pretoria Magistrates court, August 19, 2013.
  • A woman holds a photo of Reeva Steenkamp as she leaves her funeral in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, February 19, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius weeps in court at his bail hearing in Pretoria, February 15, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, November 4, 2012.
  • A newspaper vendor sets up his stall outside court ahead of Pistorius' court appearance in Pretoria, February 15, 2013.
  • Carl Pistorius, brother of Oscar, attends his brother's court appearance in Pretoria February 15, 2013.
  • This aerial image taken from video provided by VNS24/7 shows the home of Oscar Pistorius in a gated housing complex in Pretoria, South Africa, February 14, 2013.
  • Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the Boschkop police station, east of Pretoria, South Africa, February 14, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius celebrates winning the men's 400 meter final during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, September 8, 2012.
  • Pistorius celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men's 400m T44 classification during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, September 8, 2012.

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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