Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty to four charges, including murder for girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s shooting death, on the first day of his trial at a court in the South African capital, Pretoria. Here is a look at the main issues Monday in the murder trial of the double-amputee Olympic athlete that has raised international interest and was carried, in part, on live television.
June Steenkamp, the mother of the woman Pistorius shot dead a year ago, wore black to the court and arrived after saying she wanted to look Pistorius in the eyes.
The opening day of the trial was the first time any of Reeva Steenkamp’s close relatives attended any of Pistorius’ court appearances. Before the trial opened, June Steenkamp gave an interview with a British newspaper and her comments were published by the Pretoria News on Monday morning.
“I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva,” she said. “Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him … But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me.”
When Pistorius entered court he passed close by Steenkamp’s mother – a couple of feet in front of her, in fact – but didn’t look in her direction.
PISTORIUS IN COURT
Pistorius carried a notepad and pen into court and later brought in what appeared to be a laptop bag. Facing a possible life sentence if found guilty of premeditated murder in Steenkamp’s shooting death, Pistorius sometimes made notes during the day’s proceedings and passed some of them to his legal team in front of the wooden bench the athlete was sitting in.
The Olympian wore a dark gray suit and black tie and appeared relaxed, smiling at one point. He spoke little to the court. He only confirmed to the judge that he understood the charges against him and then said “not guilty” to each one of them.
Members of his family, including his uncle Arnold, sister Aimee and brother Carl sat directly behind him in Courtroom GD.
The opening day focused on the sequence of events in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, when Pistorius concedes shooting four times through a door in his bathroom, hitting girlfriend Steenkamp three times and killing her. He says he thought she was a dangerous intruder.
The first witness to testify, Michelle Burger, lives near Pistorius’ house. She said she heard a woman’s “blood-curdling” screams and a man shouting for “help” before the sounds of the gunshots. The testimony backs the prosecution’s assertion that there was a loud fight before the shooting.
Cross-examining her, Pistorius lawyer Barry Roux argued she could have been mistaken in two ways: The shots she thought she heard could have been Pistorius hitting the toilet door with a cricket bat to get to his girlfriend out after the accidental shooting. Also, the screams were actually Pistorius and not a woman, Roux suggested, because the athlete had a high-pitched voice when he was anxious.
South Africa’s biggest criminal trial was delayed for 90 minutes because of a problem with a language interpreter. A woman, who has tried to disrupt two of Pistorius’ hearings before, also came into the courtroom wearing court robes and said she wanted to talk to the judge. She was escorted out by court officials and two policemen.
Judge Thokozile Masipa apologized for the delay and said: “Unfortunately there were hiccups but we will sort this out.”
NO QUICK FINISH
The first of 107 state witnesses that could be called to testify was on the stand for around three hours on the first day and will return to continue her testimony on Tuesday. Initial hopes that Pistorius’ trial would be completed by March 20, with just 14 days of proceedings, appear to be optimistic.