News / Africa

S. Africa Prepares for Pistorius Murder Trial

Anita Powell
South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius goes on trial Monday, facing charges that he murdered his girlfriend in his Pretoria home.  The event is being called South Africa's "trial of the century."

There is no doubt who killed Reeva Steenkamp, a well-known model and the girlfriend of South African runner Oscar Pistorius.  Pistorius has admitted to fatally shooting her on Valentine’s Day, 2013.

What remains in dispute is: Was it murder?

That will be the central question before Judge Thokozile Masipa beginning Monday. She will have to wade through testimony from as many as 107 state witnesses -- and possibly, from Pistorius himself.  

The list of state witnesses includes forensics experts, family members and friends, neighbors and even an ex-girlfriend.

Pistorius says he mistook his girlfriend of three months for an intruder to his Pretoria home, and that he did not mean to shoot her through a locked bathroom door.  

The prosecution argues that the shooting was deliberate.
 
Legal expert Stephen Tuson says that if Pistorius himself is called to testify, South African law demands that he speak first -- which could make for an explosive start to the trial.

Tuson, an adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Law School, says the prosecutors have a formidable task.

“In this case, it’s fairly unusual because the accused has admitted the criminal act.  He’s admitted firing the shots which have killed Miss Steenkamp," he said. "And so the only issue in dispute for the prosecution to prove is Mr. Pistorius’ state of mind at the time of the shooting. Did he have criminal intention, or was he negligent in his shooting?”

He predicts the trial could stretch on for months.  The proceedings are not slated to be a continuing trial, meaning that if it surpasses its March 20 deadline, it will not simply continue, but will be scheduled for a later date.

Forensics expert David Klatzow says he fears that experts may be able to spin their findings to suit each side.

“I’m hoping that it doesn’t turn out to be a case of dueling experts, but all too often this is what happens," he said. "You’ve got the state expert who says categorically, black, you’ve got the defense expert who says, categorically white and it ends up as a duel between the experts; often a highly technical duel and often the judge is not in a position to follow the technicalities of that duel.  And what often happens, and unfortunately so, is that the judge ends up weighing experts rather than expert testimony. And that’s always a dangerous thing.”  

Pistorius shot to fame by being the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, in 2012.  He also has won a slew of medals at the Paralympic Games.  His fall from the medals podium to jail has made his tale even more dramatic.

The courtroom will be packed with family members, supporters and journalists from around the world who are enticed by the potent mix of sex, sports and celebrity that the trial presents.

Parts of the trial will be televised live.  In a sign of the public's fascination with the case, a South African station is launching a 24-hour channel dedicated solely to the trial.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs