Oscar Pistorius trial: An A-Z guide

By admin
03 March 2014

It's going to be one of the biggest and most sensational court dramas South Africa has ever seen. Olympic star Oscar Pistorius goes on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, tomorrow and all eyes will be on the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Here's a rundown on the case that has the whole world talking.

As the Paralympian's murder trial begins Lara Atson and Jane Vorster take a look at the characters, evidence and legal aspects of the case.


Arnold Pistorius is the patriarch of the family. The wealthy businessman paid most of the R1-million bail to secure Oscar’s release after his arrest for shooting model Reeva Steenkamp (29) in February last year. He then offered the Olympic athlete a safe refuge, allowing him to move into his family mansion in Waterkloof, Pretoria. Oscar (27) is apparently still living in a cottage on the property and Arnold has had a gym built for him so he can train in private. His younger sister, Aimée, has lived in Arnold’s home for 11 years. Oscar shares a very close bond with her and his elder brother, Carl. Both his siblings and his uncle are on the prosecution’s witness list. If called to take the stand they’re likely to be quizzed about Oscar’s character and the possibility he could have acted out of rage. Aimee is seen during his appearance in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Monday, 19 August 2013. PHOTO: Werner Beukes/SAPA Aimee is seen during his appearance in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Monday, 19 August 2013. PHOTO: Werner Beukes/SAPA Ten seats have been assigned in court for Oscar’s entourage and a large group of friends and family members are likely to take turns attending the trial.


Hilton Botha was the detective who led the investigation.

He also gathered evidence at Oscar’s Pretoria home. During the bail hearing Botha conceded that he might have contaminated the crime scene. The defence picked holes in his testimony and said he was “not a credible witness”. Hilton Botha testifies in court of his findings in the bathroom where Reeva Steenkamp was shot, PHOTO: Sapa Hilton Botha testifies in court. PHOTO: Sapa He was taken off the case after it emerged he faced seven counts of attempted murder stemming from a 2009 incident in which he shot at a minibus taxi carrying passengers. He has since quit the police. He is on the state’s witness list.


Oscar faces the following charges:

  • Murder If found guilty the minimum sentence is life imprisonment.The state has to prove Oscar unlawfully and intentionally killed Reeva. If it fails he could be convicted of culpable homicide – the killing of another person through negligence. This could result in a non-custodial sentence or imprisonment of up to 15 years.
  • Possession of ammunition without a licence.
  • Two additional charges relating to firing guns in public. He’s alleged to have fired the gun that killed Reeva Steenkamp through the open sunroof of a car in Joburg while travelling with friends in 2012. In another incident early last year he allegedly accidentally discharged a friend’s gun under a table in a Joburg restaurant (see Kevin Lerena).


Justin Divaris introduced Oscar to Reeva in 2012. He was one of the first people Oscar called after the shooting. Oscar_D


Ex-girlfriend: Oscar has a penchant for leggy blondes and has dated a string of women. When she appears as a state witness Samantha Taylor, a pretty Cape Town marketing student who was in a relationship with him for 18 months, starting in 2011, is expected to spill the beans about Oscar's obsession with firearms and apparent problems wiht his temper.


With no eye-witnesses it will fall to forensic experts to try to piece together what happened that night. “Ballistics specialists will be key to this case,” US forensic scientist George Hime says. There’ll also be testimony from forensic pathologists, blood-spatter experts and crime scene investigators. A key area of contention is where Reeva was when she was shot. It’s known that she was in the bathroom of Oscar’s townhouse but was she sitting, as the defence contends, or cowering in a corner as the prosecution claimed at the bail hearing?


The gun that claimed Reeva’s life was a Taurus 9mm Parabellum. It was the only firearm registered in Oscar’s name, according to newspaper reports, but it seems he was keen to collect more – in 2012 he applied for licences for six additional weapons, among them a semi-automatic R5 assault rifle. He’d bought these weapons but as he was awaiting the licences they were kept in safekeeping by a gun dealer.


There’s been speculation that Oscar may have come across an upsetting SMS from rugby player Francois Hougaard on Reeva’s phone late on the fateful night and that this might have triggered the shooting. Francois Hougaard Francois Hougaard The Bok and Reeva were an item for two months in 2012 but she dumped him for Oscar. When Hougaard spoke to us he dismissed the rumours. “The last time I communicated with Reeva via text was months before she died.”


Police investigators hoped that Oscar’s iPhone 5, which was found on the bloodspattered bathroom floor, could hold the key to exactly what happened before the shooting. But they’re struggling to find the four-digit pin code needed to unlock it and Oscar says he can’t remember it. In February just weeks before the trial the phone remained locked. SA investigators have traveled to the US so Apple can help them to unlock the phone.


Judge Thokozile Masipa is the person who holds Oscar’s fate in her hands. A former  journalist, social worker and advocate, she became South Africa’s second black female high court judge after Lucy Mailula. She has more than 15 years’ experience on the bench and in her judgments has been outspoken about violence against women. In 2001 when sentencing two men to life imprisonment for raping a woman she said women “feel unsafe, even in the sanctity of their own homes, and look to these courts to protect their interests”. Last year she made headlines when she sentenced notorious house robber and rapist Shepherd Moyo to 252 years in prison.


Kevin Lerena was almost hit when the Olympian athlete allegedly accidentally fired a gun while dining out at Tashas, a restaurant in Melrose Arch, Joburg, early last year. Oscar was admiring the firearm which belonged to another friend and discharged it, almost hitting Kevin in the foot. A boxer and Oscar’s close friend, Kevin later said there were no hard feelings.


As the two legal teams face off in court fireworks are guaranteed. In Oscar's corner is Barry Roux, a hard-hitting defence lawyer known for wearing flashy red ties in court. With more than 30 years' experience, he reportedly charges around R50 000 a day for his services. High-profile clients have included late mining magnate Roger Kebble , who was charged with tax evasion, and businessman Dave King who faced 322 charges of fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, and racketeering.

The man who’s setting out to prove Oscar guilty of premeditated murder is state prosecutor Gerrie Nel. He’s no stranger to big cases, having successfully jailed South Africa’s former police chief Jackie Selebi on corruption charges in 2010.

This isn’t the first time he and Roux have pitted their wits against each other in court. In 1999 Roux defended Kempton Park dentist Dr Casper Greeff, whom Nel was prosecuting for the murder of his wife, Estelle Greeff – she was killed and it was made to look like a botched robbery. Nel won and Greeff got a life sentence.


After Hilton Botha was removed from the case as chief investigation officer, Colonel Vineshkumar Moonoo was brought in to replace him. With more than three decades of experience and impeccable credentials, Moonoo is regarded as one of SA’s top detectives. The married father-of-two joined the police force in 1981 and spent 18 years serving in Kliptown, Soweto, working his way up the ranks to become the divisional commissioner of detective services.


The murder trial starts at the North Gauteng High Court. Several high-profile cases have been heard in this court, including that of two of the accused in the Chanélle Henning murder trial. It was also in this court that Johan Kotzé (55), the so-called Modimolle monster, was given two life terms plus 22 years behind bars by Judge Bert Bam for the rape and assault of his ex-wife, Ina Bonnette (44), and the murder of her son, Conrad (19), in 2012.


Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born without fibulae (calf bones) and when he was 11 months old his parents, Sheila and Henké, took the difficult decision to have both his legs amputated below the knees.

But he didn’t let this disability hold him back – fitted with artificial legs, he competed in a range of sports at Pretoria Boys High. He started running competitively when he was 17, using special prosthetic blades. Within eight months he was chosen to represent South Africa at the Paralympics in Athens 2004 where he won the 200-m final in a world record time of 21,97 seconds. In 2012 he became the first amputee runner to compete at the Olympics. His electrifying athletic performances led to him becoming known as Blade Runner or the fastest man on no legs. But in 2013 life as he knew it was over when he shot his girlfriend.


Oscar’s prosthetic legs are one of the key areas of contention in the case. According to the affidavit Oscar submitted at his bail hearing, he woke up in the middle of the night, heard a noise in the bathroom and immediately grabbed his firearm to protect himself and Reeva. “I didn’t have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable,” he claimed in the affidavit. “I believed that when the intruder or intruders came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger.” He maintains he thought Reeva was still in bed with him and shot at the bathroom door which was closed at the time. The prosecution argued that he put on his prostethics and walked to shoot her. Q There are many questions that remain unanswered. They include:

  • Did Oscar and Reeva have an argument the night she was shot?
  • Were the lights on in the house at the time of the tragedy?
  • How many shots were fired and over what period of time?
  • If there was an intruder in the house why didn’t Oscar check to see where Reeva
  • was?
  • Why did Reeva lock herself in the toilet? Had she feared for her life?
  • Why did she take her phone to the toilet with her?
  • Why did Oscar take his iPhone to the toilet and then use a different phone to call for
  • help?
R Reeva Steenkamp was born in Cape Town and grew up in Port Elizabeth, the only daughter of June and Barry Steenkamp.

Reeva Steenkamp is gone but not forgotten. Reeva Steenkamp is gone but not forgotten. After studying law she worked as an entrepreneur, TV presenter, model and reality TV star. She and Oscar were first spotted together at the South African Sports Awards in Joburg in November 2012. The relationship moved quickly. At another event Reeva sang the sportsman’s praises. “I absolutely adore Oscar. I respect and admire him so much. It’s still very new; we want some time just with us.” Now Reeva’s parents, who run a bar in Greenbushes, Port Elizabeth, are hoping for answers. Barry won’t attend the trial but June will be there. It will be the first time she comes face to face with Oscar since her daughter’s death. The Steenkamps are reportedly also considering instituting a civil case against Oscar for loss of income and the emotional trauma caused by Reeva’s death.


Surrounded by electric fencing and with round-the-clock security the luxurious Silver Woods Country Estate must be one of the safest places in the country. But Oscar still felt jumpy enough to sleep with a gun at his bedside. The names of 18 Silver Woods residents and employees are on the list of witnesses at the trial, including two of Oscar’s immediate neighbours and one who lives across the road from him. According to the charge sheet the prosecution will argue that, “Some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming.” During Oscar’s bail application his attorneys dismissed these allegations as “speculative at best”.


The toilet door of Oscar’s house is regarded as one of the most vital pieces of evidence in the case. Former chief investigation officer Hilton Botha revealed that police removed the door after someone offered an officer a substantial amount of money to take a picture of it. “If someone steals the door and sells it, we have no case,” Botha explained. It’s possible that the height of the bullet holes in the door and the trajectory of the four bullets fired will show if Oscar was standing on his prosthetic limbs, as prosecutors maintain, or on his stumps, as he says, and may help determine if he committed murder.


US forensic specialists are helping Oscar’s legal team to prepare his defence. He has also reportedly hired the Evidence Room, an American forensic animation company that does crime scene re-enactments, specifically ones that demonstrate shooting incidents. "It’s our job to help people understand the bigger picture,” the company’s head, Scott Roder, says.Scott works on about 100 court cases a year all over the world and sometimes charges more than R110 000 for a video.


The Valentine’s Day shooting stunned South Africa and the world. Reeva was due to give a speech to learners at Sandown High School in Joburg that day. The model was going to use the occasion to reveal she’d previously been in an abusive relationship. Rough notes leaked to the media showed she’d been planning to say it was this that inspired her to move to Jozi and rebuild her life there. Reeva was excited about the Valentine’s gift she’d created for Oscar – a romantic collage of photos she’d assembled of the two of them together. She gave it to him the day before but told him not to open it before Valentine’s Day.


The X factor. The case has all the ingredients needed to capture the world’s attention. A heroic athlete who overcame disability to attain Olympic glory, a beautiful model, a gun and a Valentine’s Day shooting . . . Oscar and Reeva before it all went horribly wrong. Oscar and Reeva before it all went horribly wrong. Media organisations as far afield as Russia and Argentina have everything in place for when the trial starts. Included in the material they’ve prepared for the trial are hours of interviews and three-dimensional models of the house where the tragedy played out.


Since Reeva’s death thousands of internet users have been using websites such as YouTube to keep up to date on the latest developments in the case. According to Acceleration Media there were more than 1,3 million posts on social media about the case between 14 and 20 February 2013 – that’s about 130 posts a minute. More than 80% of these occurred on Twitter.


Oscar’s father, Henké Pistorius, said in an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph he had zero doubt Oscar was telling the truth when he said that he had shot Reeva because he mistakenly took her for an intruder. "When you’re a sportsman, you act even more on instinct,” he said. He said the entire Pistorius family would be behind Oscar “heart and soul” and do everything to help clear his name.

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