Wednesday 21 March 2018

Oscar Pistorius trial delayed as lawyers ask for more time

A South African magistrate warned against "trial by media" of Oscar Pistorius as the athlete appeared in court for the first time since being freed on bail over the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Daniel Thulare said he was "worried" by aspects of reporting about the killing after prosecutor Andrea Johnson asked for a postponement of the hearing to allow for further investigation of the case.

The 26-year-old double amputee and six-time Paralympic sprint champion is accused of murdering Ms Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate on February 14.

The athlete has said he shot Ms Steenkamp through a bathroom door thinking an intruder was inside his house.

Appearing in court in Pretoria, clean shaven Pistorius, dressed in a dark suit and tie, was calm and composed throughout the hearing.

He spoke only to confirm that he had understood after the magistrate confirmed that the hearing would be postponed until August 19 and the same bail conditions would apply.

Pistorius, 26, had to make his way through a scrum of photographers and reporters as he made his first formal public appearance since his release on bail in February.

The double amputee athlete, nicknamed "Blade Runner" for the prosthetics he uses in competition, has admitted shooting Reeva, 29, four times through a locked bathroom door on February 14 at his home in an affluent Pretoria community.

Oscar Pistorius enters the dock before in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court
Oscar Pistorius enters the dock before in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court
Oscar Pistorius, right, stands near his sister Aimee, centre, and uncle Arnold Pistorius, left, while appearing in the magistrates court in Pretoria
Double-amputee Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, looks on as he appears in the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa
Oscar Pistorius, centre, arrives at the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, followed by his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, back left
Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
A picture painted by Reeva Steenkamp, as a teenager, depicting a gunman an angel and a stairway to heaven which her parents described as a "premonition".
A picture painted by Reeva Steenkamp, as a teenager, depicting a gunman an angel and a stairway to heaven which her parents described as a "premonition".
A picture painted by Reeva Steenkamp, as a teenager, depicting a gunman an angel and a stairway to heaven which her parents described as a "premonition".
Oscar Pistorius

In pre-trial testimony, his lawyers told the court the shooting was a tragic mistake and Pistorius was acting in self-defence against what he thought was an intruder.

Prosecutors accuse him of premeditated murder for firing into the door, hitting Steenkamp in the head, hip and arm.

The judge postponed the case after the athlete's lawyers asked for more time to prepare.

Pistorius was one of the stars of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London, carrying South Africa's flag at the closing ceremonies for the Games.

His arrest and subsequent murder charge shocked millions around the world as he was seen as a symbol of triumph over adversity.

In South Africa, he was a hero for both black and white people, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.

Pistorius has mostly kept out of the public eye since he secured bail. Media reported that in April he partied at a nightclub in a Johannesburg suburb after his bail conditions were relaxed the previous month.

The Pistorius camp said the matter was blown out of proportion and he went out for a quiet dinner with friends after spending weeks in the house with family.

South Africa does not have trial by jury so pre-trial media coverage is seldom deemed to be prejudicial.

Mr Thulare said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should "seriously look" at whether any of the coverage of the case had scandalised the court.

He also made a public appeal for anyone with information about the case to contact the authorities.

Defence laywer Barry Roux told the court the defence team did not oppose an adjournment of the case to August 19.

Pre-trial issues are expected to be dealt with at the hearing on August 19.

The appearance comes after Ms Steenkamp's parents Barry and June gave a television interview saying they were desperate to find out why their daughter had been shot.

In the Channel 5 interview, shown last night, Mrs Steenkamp said "there is only one person who knows what happened" that night in February when her "terrified" daughter was killed .

Pistorius's family yesterday said they will "support him every step of the way" and "fully stand behind" him.

The Blade Runner's uncle Arnold Pistorius said the family was "shaken" by pictures of the star's bloody bathroom that emerged last week.

He said: "We believe in him, love him and will support him every step of the way in what lies ahead.

"We were shaken by the graphic images, leaked into the public domain this week, of the accident scene at Oscar's house.

"It has always been our plea that the legal process be allowed to run its course with integrity. The leaking of evidential material into the public domain before the court case does not advance this process.

"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."

In last night's interview, Mrs Steenkamp spoke of the guilt she and her husband feel about not having "protected" their daughter.

"Why? Why did he shoot her? I want to know why he shot her. Because she must have been so afraid in the toilet, and somebody's firing (a) gun, bullets through the door.

"We feel bad that we couldn't protect her. Her whole life we protected her. From the day she was born we protected her, but this we could not protect her from. Why couldn't we protect her from this?

"How did she end up with a person like this? Who could shoot her? I want to know. We don't know what happened. There is only one person who knows what happened," she told the Channel 5 programme Why Did Oscar Pistorius Kill Our Daughter?

Ms Steenkamp's parents said their daughter told them of her arguments with Pistorius and how they had feared for her safety.

Recalling a phone call from her daughter who was travelling in a car that Pistorius was driving at speed, Mrs Steenkamp said: "She was afraid, she was so afraid. She phoned me and she said, 'Mummy I'm in the car with Oscar and he's driving like a lunatic'."

Mrs Steenkamp added: "A week or so later she phoned me, we chatted about this and that, little girl things. I said 'how's it going with Oscar?'. She said that 'We've been fighting; we've been fighting a lot'.

"She didn't elaborate about what they'd been fighting about. She said, 'We are fighting a lot'. That's what she said.

"I didn't feel alarmed about that because men and women do fight, don't they, it's part of a relationship, but this is a very early relationship to be fighting."

Ms Steenkamp's parents also revealed unseen personal photographs and letters.

Among them was a picture painted by her as a teenager, depicting a gunman, an angel and a stairway to heaven which her parents described as a "premonition".

The documentary showed the scene as friends and family came together to scatter Ms Steenkamp's ashes in the waters of Nelson Mandela Bay.

PIstorius won gold at the London 2012 Paralympics and became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics at the London 2012 Games after a long legal battle.

His arrest in February shocked South Africans who view him as a sporting hero.



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