Oscar Pistorius, the first man with two prosthetic legs to compete in the Olympics, has been in the news recently, but not because of his accomplishment. Instead, the Paralympic gold medalist is currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.
Pistorius was found kneeling at the side of dying 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Steenkamp, a well-known South African model, was killed when Pistorius allegedly shot her through a door leading from his bedroom into the bathroom. The trial began in Pretoria, South Africa on March 3, with parts of the trial being broadcast on television around the world.
In addition to premeditated murder, Pistorius faces three firearms related charges from incidents in 2012. He has pleaded not guilty to all four counts. Pistorius admits to shooting Steenkamp, but claims he thought she was an intruder. Being convicted of premeditated murder in South Africa results in a mandatory life sentence with a 25 year minimum. If not convicted, Pistorius could still face up to 15 years, the punishment for culpable homicide.
The first day of trial took place last Monday, with Pistorius’ neighbor Elizabeth Burger called to the stand as witness. After complications involving the Afrikaans interpreter, Burger decided to give her testimony in English. She described hearing “a woman’s terrible screams” from Pistorius’s estate, followed by a man screaming and four gunshots.
After Burger was called to stand on Tuesday, a second witness, Estelle Van der Merwe was presented. Another neighbor of Pistorius, Van der Merwe claimed she could not remember every detail about the night of the shooting, but she did testify to hearing male and female screaming in addition to gunshots. The next witness called, a third neighbor and Burger’s husband, described hearing gunshots and screaming as well. Like his wife, Charl Johnson’s testimony largely matched those of preceding witnesses.
On day three of the trial, Pistorius’s friend Kevin Lerena was called to the stand. Lerena was not present the night of the shooting. Instead, his testimony focused on a prior incident when Pistorius fired a gun in a restaurant. Darren Fresco, another friend, handed Pistorius the weapon under the table, saying it was “one up,” or loaded. According to Lerena, the gun fired soon after, and Pistorius pleaded with Fresco to take the blame. When the restaurant’s manager confronted the group, Fresco told him the weapon had fallen out of his pocket and fired by accident. Defense attorney Barry Roux claimed that Pistorius was unable to hear Fresco in the crowded restaurant, and thus did not realize the gun was loaded. Lerena stated that Pistorius was apologetic and distraught following the gun’s discharge.
Thursday saw Dr. Johan Stipp take the stand. Stipp lives closest to Pistorius of all neighbors called and saw the aftermath of the shooting. Like the other neighbors who testified, Stipp heard screaming followed by gunfire. Though Pistorius claims he was too wary of the potential intruder to turn any lights on, Stipp clearly remembers seeing lights on in the bathroom as he looked over to Pistorius’s estate. Despite this discrepancy, Stipp says Pistorius seemed sincerely upset and was making his best efforts to revive Steenkamp. The witness also says that the first thing Pistorius said to him was, “I shot her, I thought she was a burglar and I shot her.” As Stipp spoke graphically of details of the bathroom scene, Pistorius was visibly shaken, holding his head in his hands and dry-heaving.
On day five of the trial, Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor was called to testify. She spoke about his tendency to carry weapons, claiming he slept with a gun by his bed and carried one wherever he went. According to Taylor, Pistorius was wary of intruders. Once after hearing a noise from outside the bedroom window, he woke her up, then took the gun with him as he investigated its source. On a separate occasion, Pistorius and Taylor were tailed by a white Mercedes. When they pulled up to the gates of his estate, Pistorius jumped out of the car and held a gun to the other vehicle’s window, causing them to drive off. In another incident, the two were driving with some friends and were pulled over for speeding. Later that day, Taylor claimed that Pistorius fired a gun out of the sunroof, in an attempt to let loose anger from being pulled over.
The last witness to testify was a security guard on Pistorius’s estate. Pistorius told guard Pieter Baba that everything was “fine” as they spoke on the phone soon after the shooting. Pistorius called again soon after, but was crying and unable to speak before he hung up.
Week one of the trial ended with over a hundred unknown witnesses still available for testimony. The second week of the trial proved eventful as the pathologist delivered the gruesome details of Steenkamp’s death. Pistorius reportedly vomited as the descriptions of his former girlfriend’s fatal wounds were described.
The trial continues through this week and could spill into next week as more witnesses and evidence is presented to the court.