Oscar Pistorius court hearing today but trial unlikely to start for months
Police in Pretoria ‘disgusted’ by leaking of crime scene images
Video grab showing the aftermath of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp in the bathroom of paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s Pretoria home. Photograph: Sky News/PA Wire
Oscar Pistorius, pictured at a race meeting last September, has kept a low profile since his release on bail a week after the shooting at his Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14th last in which his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was killed. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire
The court hearing of murder accused Oscar Pistorius today is likely to be uneventful, but that cannot be said of developments in the case over the past week.
The Paralympian’s appearance at Pretoria Magistrate’s Court may last only minutes, as the case is just down for mention.
Defence lawyers and prosecutors have already agreed to a postponement until August – the date should be confirmed by the magistrate today – to give detectives time they say is necessary to finalise their investigation.
So in all likelihood, the actual trial will not take place until late this year or early 2014, as once the investigation is finished the defence team will be given the opportunity to review the evidence against their client.
Pistorius, accused of the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14th last, has kept a low profile since his release on bail.
He is said by family members to have turned to God as part of his efforts to come to terms with what happened and, while he has no intention of competing in athletics competitions, he is training, his coach Ampie Louw says.
The athlete, known as the Blade Runner because of the carbon fibre legs he uses to race on, insists the shooting of his model girlfriend three times through a closed toilet cubicle door was a tragic accident.
Ms Steenkamp (29), who was at the house for a number of hours before the shooting occurred, was found with gunshot wounds to her head, elbow and hip.
Pistorius (26) says he thought she was an intruder who had gained entry to his home in the middle of the night. However, the state believes otherwise. Prosecutors say Pistorius is a cold-blooded killer who executed his lover following an argument.
His lawyers will argue that the murder was not planned and seek a lesser charge of culpable homicide. This can attract a maximum sentence of 15 years if the killing is proven to be reckless and negligent.
While there has been little worthy Pistorius-related news to report on since the athlete managed to get his bail conditions significantly relaxed in late March, that all changed late last week when pictures taken at the crime scene were leaked to British broadcaster Sky News.
The leaked images purportedly show the inside of the toilet cubicle in Pistorius’s house where Ms Steenkamp was when she was gunned down.
A large pool of blood can be seen around the toilet and the bathroom door clearly shows tape marking the points where the bullets entered the wooden panels.
The door is critical to the case, as the forensic examination of the bullet holes should show exactly how far Pistorius was away from the door when the shots were fired. This will have a bearing on the level of premeditation involved.
The angle of the bullet holes will also indicate whether Pistorius was wearing his prosthetic legs or not when he fired his gun. He claims he was not and that hearing a noise coming from the bathroom without his legs on made him feel extremely vulnerable and prompted his violent reaction.
The culprit who leaked the images has yet to be identified, but officers linked to the early part of the police investigation are the main suspects. At least 49 mobile phones reportedly used to take pictures of Pistorius while he was in custody were confiscated in April.
The police say they are “disgusted” by the emergence of the crime scene images, but a number of legal experts maintain the leak should have little bearing on the trial, given there will be no jury involved.
It has been claimed that local and international media outlets offered officers tens of thousands of euros for pictures of Pistorius in custody, or of the crime scene, in the days that followed the shooting.
Pistorius’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said the family “were shaken by the graphic images, leaked into the public domain this week” and asked that the legal process be allowed to run its course.
“We continue to have great faith in the South African legal justice system and believe that Oscar’s account of what happened on that terrible night in February will be borne out by the evidence that the defence team will lead in court,” he added.
Indeed, it seems the Pistorius public relations machine went into full swing after the images entered the public domain and the court date drew close.
For the last two months, the Pistorius family has shied away from answering questions about the athlete’s mental health and daily routines, but in the week leading up to today’s hearing, different members have talked to the media.