The Pistorius trial: A definitive guide
EWN recaps all the major events of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial ahead of the final phases.
JOHANNESBURG - The Oscar Pistorius murder trial has gripped the attention of millions across the world since the news first broke on 14 February 2013 that the athlete had shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home. From the first court appearance shortly thereafter to the start of the trial in March this year, the story has not failed to deliver in drama and intrigue.
The trial itself has been a remarkable one, particularly for South Africans who, in a first for the country, were able to watch it unfold on live television. At the same time, news organisations provided minute-by-minute coverage of each witness's testimony as well as behind-the-scenes insights.
With closing arguments due to take place on 7 and 8 August, here is a recap of the most significant and interesting moments of the trial.
It started with the arrival of accused Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria on Monday 3 March this year.
There were several delays that morning, with the arrival of a woman known only as Annamarie among the most unusual reasons for delays. She apparently arrived at the court to bring a stop to the proceedings on the grounds that Pistorius was not mentally fit to stand trial. But Judge Thokozile Masipa seemed to think Annamarie herself was the unfit one and decided to go ahead with proceedings.
Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all charges, namely murder, firing a gun in Tashas at Melrose Arch, firing a gun through the sunroof of a car and illegal possession of ammunition.
The state, led by prosecutor Gerrie Nel, then called its first witness, Michelle Burger, a resident of Silver Woods Estate who lived 177 metres from Pistorius's home. She is probably best remembered for her account of the gunshot sounds.
Strong emotions became a feature of the trial within the first few days, with Burger breaking down as she described her memory of the incident.
With Burger's fascinating evidence-in-chief completed, head defence advocate Barry Roux took his first steps onto the world stage as his now-famous style of cross-examination was unveiled.
- Willem Engelbrecht (@WillemEngelbre1) March 5, 2014
Interrogating all aspects of Burger's testimony, with his frequent use of the phrase "I put it to you" a notable feature, Roux soon became something of a meme star. One of the major points in Roux's cross-examination was that Pistorius's screams may well have resembled those of a woman, in an attempt to invalidate Burger's claim that she heard Steenkamp screaming.
- Ian (@adams_ian) March 5, 2014
Another important issue in terms of what Burger (and several other witnesses) heard was the difference between the sound of gunfire and that of a cricket bat hitting the bathroom door. Soon enough, of course, a detailed video was posted to YouTube on this very issue.
Burger's husband Charl Johnson later took the stand and reaffirmed much of his wife's testimony, though he wasn't necessarily immune to Roux's tough cross-examination.
The first fully televised testimony was that from Kevin Lerena, a boxer and friend of Pistorius's who witnessed the Tashas incident.
Lerena told the court that another friend, Darren Fresco, had passed a gun to Pistorius under the table at the restaurant and it went off in the athlete's hand. He said Pistorius asked Fresco to take the blame to avoid negative media attention.
Shortly thereafter, the court heard from Dr Johan Stipp, a radiologist and another Pistorius neighbour. He told the court what he witnessed upon arriving at Pistorius's house shortly after hearing the shooting. He lived closer to the house than Burger and Johnson and also testified that he heard a woman screaming. The details of what he saw were the first in a series of graphic and heart-wrenching testimonies heard in court.
After Stipp concluded his testimony Pistorius's ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor took the stand. The young woman testified about the incident in which Pistorius allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of a car on the way back from the Vaal. Perhaps the most striking moment of her testimony - and there were several - was when she said, quite bluntly, " He cheated on me with Reeva Steenkamp."
Taylor shed a fair number of tears as she described her troubled relationship with Pistorius and her testimony seemed strongly aimed at revealing his darker side.
Watch below for a full wrap of the first week of the trial.
When state pathologist Gert Saayman took the stand, yet another media-related concern came up. His testimony was expected to be particularly graphic, even for those unable to see the images he was likely to use. After some fairly lengthy legal arguments, the judge decided that even allowing audio of his testimony would be inappropriate and ordered an effective media blackout. Even tweets were disallowed for the majority of his testimony, with specific details of his reports barred.
It was at that point that Pistorius's green bucket entered the limelight, with the athlete throwing up during the more explicit moments of Saayman's testimony.
Next, we had Fresco, another friend of Pistorius, who was called by the state to testify about the alleged sunroof shooting, previously covered by Taylor, as well as the Tashas shooting covered by Lerena. His evidence against his friend was pretty severe. But Roux's cross-examination was even worse, with many reporters summing up the day as a victory for the defence.
In describing the moments after Pistorius allegedly fired the gun through the sunroof, Fresco said, "Apologies for my language, my lady, but I asked him if he was f***ing mad." Nel then asked, "What did he say?" to which Fresco said, "He just laughed, my lady."
The following day, the replica toilet cubicle entered the court, with the very door through which four bullets were fired reassembled as a part of the exhibit.
To this end, the state called Colonel Gerhard Vermeulen to the stand. Followers of the trial will likely remember the images of him wielding the cricket bat.
Roux's cross-examination of Vermeulen led to yet more memes about his tough approach.
- Ruben Jayrie (@The_RubyMeister) March 12, 2014
Towards the end of Vermeulen's time on the stand, he was taken through a large number of images from the crime scene and, while these were searched for, gory images of Steenkamp's head wound were inadvertently shown, causing Pistorius to begin retching again.
Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg was next on the stand with more graphic details of the crime scene, as well as photographs taken of Pistorius shortly after the shooting, with parts of his prostheses and body covered in blood.
Van Rensburg's was a fairly technical testimony but one that led to a great deal of controversy when it came time for cross-examination, with Roux using the opportunity to attack the police's handling of the crime scene.
As the trial laboured on, the humour on the sidelines continued. A major highlight was 94.7 Highveld Stereo's rap parody of Barry Roux:
Further, the prevalence of the trial on social media was inescapable. Stephen Grootes discussed the phenomenon during an episode of The #ConsideredView:
The next major witness for the state was Captain Chris Mangena who seemed to help restore faith in the prosecution's efforts when he laid out his testimony in precise, confident detail. The state used his ballistics report to argue that Steenkamp was killed while trying to defend herself - that the gunshots did not come as a surprise to her and, therefore, she would have been communicating with Pistorius as he pulled the trigger.
Soon, as the state was nearing the end of its case, we heard from Captain Francois Moller who investigated the cellphones found at the crime scene. With his testimony came vivid details about Pistorius and Steenkamp's relationship, delivered by the prosecution with the aim of showing that the model was afraid of her boyfriend and that their romance was nowhere near as strong as the defence wanted the court to believe.
Moller's evidence seemed to be a great success for the prosecution until Roux began his cross-examination. The shrewd advocate showed there were a far greater number of loving, kind messages between the two and that there was nothing particularly unusual about the few instances in which they argued.
Roux also showed CCTV footage of Pistorius and Steenkamp in a shop, kissing and holding hands like a happy couple.
On Friday 25 March, the state brought its case against Pistorius to a close, meaning, after the weekend, it would then be the defence's turn to call witnesses and to make their case.
However, when everyone arrived in court on Monday 28 March, the trial hit the first of several major delays as one of Masipa's assessors called in sick. Proceedings only resumed on 7 April.
Back in court, the defence first called its own pathologist, Jan Botha, to dispute the findings of the state's Professor Saayman. But Botha soon became the first victim of 'Bull Terrier' Nel's cross-examination style which made Roux look sweet and friendly. And the memes reflected this.
- NJ vd Westhuizen (@NJvdW) April 11, 2014
Next, though, was the climax of the trial - Oscar Pistorius took the stand to begin his lengthy testimony.
His first move was to apologise to Steenkamp's family and friends, telling them, "There hasn't been a moment I've not thought about your family," adding, "I just wanted to protect her."
Roux started evidence-in-chief with his client by discussing matters such as his upbringing, career and disability. The next day, however, Pistorius finally had to describe, in great detail, the events that led up to and followed the shooting of his girlfriend.
Eventually, Pistorius broke down in court one too many times and proceedings were postponed. He and many of his relatives were overcome with emotion as he described the shooting following what had already been a very heavy phase in his testimony.
The next day, Pistorius finished his evidence-in-chief without issues, meaning it was soon time for Nel to take over. The prosecutor tore right into the accused and, sure enough, the tears were back. Nel tried to make Pistorius accept full responsibility in what was one of the most dramatic dialogues of the entire trial.
Gerrie Nel: Mr Pistorius, you were and you still are one of the most recognised faces in the world, do you agree?
Oscar Pistorius: I agree, my lady.
GN: You are a model for sportsmen, disabled and able-bodied sportsman all over the world?
OP: I think I was, my lady. I've made a terrible mistake and…
GN: You made a mistake?
OP: That's correct…
GN: You killed a person, that's what you did, isn't it?
OP: I made a mistake.
GN: You killed Reeva Steenkamp, that's what you did.
OP: I made a mistake, my lady.
GN: You're repeating it three times. What was your mistake?
OP: My mistake was that I took Reeva's life, my lady.
GN: You killed her - you shot and killed her. Won't you take responsibility for that?
OP: I did, my lady.
GN: Then say it. Then say, 'Yes. I shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.'
OP: I did, my lady.
Next, Nel wanted to show a video of Pistorius at the shooting range, now known as the 'Zombie Stopper video', which was eventually allowed by the court.
In the film, Pistorius is seen shooting a melon which explodes on impact. Referring to this, Nel said, bluntly, "We know that the same happened to Reeva's head." He paused but Pistorius didn't reply. Then, in a remarkable move, Nel showed an extremely graphic image of the model's head after the shooting. The image flashed onto screens in the courtroom and across the world. Screams were heard in the courtroom. Pistorius lost himself in tears and refused to look at the image while Roux objected and Masipa asked for the picture to be removed. Court was then adjourned for a brief period to allow Pistorius to compose himself.
The remainder of the athlete's time on the stand was certainly fascinating but not nearly as dramatic as those first few moments of cross-examination. Nel doggedly pushed Pistorius on almost all aspects of his version of events and tried his hardest to get him to slip up or contradict himself. Eventually, after several days on the stand, the athlete was excused.
Meanwhile, Nel's remarkable ability to be even more frightening than Roux led the 94.7 team to create yet another parody rap song.
Eventually, after Pistorius completed his time on the stand, it was the turn of Roger Dixon who became perhaps the most lambasted witness in terms of the public response. His testimony covered a remarkably diverse range of subjects, particularly considering his qualification as a geologist. This issue left his testimony wide open to attacks from Nel.
A number of Pistorius's neighbours followed Dixon and largely contradicted the evidence given by the other neighbours called by the state, particularly when it came to the sounds they heard.
Among the expert witnesses were an anaesthetist who disputed Saayman's findings on what time Steenkamp ate food prior to her death and a ballistics expert who had different opinions on the shooting to Captain Mangena.
The majority of expert evidence was compelling and certainly helped the defence balance the scales, but Nel also made sure to pick away at contradictions and, quite frequently, the authority of the witnesses themselves.
The next major event in the trial came when forensic psychiatrist Merryl Vorster took the stand. In short, she said she had diagnosed Pistorius with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and believed this may have played a role in the shooting. For the defence, this was aimed at showing that Pistorius was unusually concerned about crime and should not be punished for taking action when in fear.
However, Nel cleverly turned the evidence against the defence by arguing that, if the diagnosis was to be taken seriously, Pistorius should be sent for mental observation. Without a definitive medical assessment, he said, the accused should not stand trial as that may be seen as a miscarriage of justice.
After some lengthy debate in court, Judge Masipa conceded that it was in the interest of justice to send the athlete for 30 days of observation before continuing with the trial. The important factor to be tested, based on Vorster's evidence, was whether Pistorius was able to act in accordance with his understanding of right and wrong.
With that, the trial was postponed and Pistorius began making daily visits to Weskoppies where a group of doctors worked towards creating a report for submission to the court.
Eventually, on 30 June, court resumed and the results of Pistorius's observation were revealed. In short, it was found that he was fine. While the doctors noted certain concerns, Pistorius was found to be in a stable mental condition at the time of the shooting, and therefore able to understand his actions and to stand trial.
Court proceedings resumed and Pistorius's orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Gerald Versfeld, testified about the athlete's extreme difficulty in walking without his prostheses.
We also heard from acoustics expert Ivan Lin who disputed the evidence of the neighbours called by the state, further hampering the state's claims about Steenkamp's screams.
Nel's general approach to these witnesses involved attacking their evidence where it didn't quite pertain to their qualifications, while picking apart the technical evidence to show discrepancies. A common thread in his cross-examinations was that many of the witnesses were called in by the defence very late in the trial to produce their reports and that this rendered much of their evidence less reliable. Further, in some instances, particularly where the witnesses had known Pistorius for a fair amount of time, Nel attacked their impartiality.
Bias became a particularly significant point when Pistorius's manager Peet van Zyl and his team doctor Professor Wayne Derman gave their testimonies. Van Zyl focused on Pistorius's temper, saying reports that the athlete was aggressive were wildly exaggerated, as well as his relationship with Steenkamp, which he described as particularly close.
Derman spent a lengthy time on the stand describing Pistorius's disability and its effect on his psyche. He said Pistorius was particularly vulnerable and used several medical reports to explain that this led to many people relying heavily on a fight response as opposed to a flight response. In other words, it was natural for Pistorius to want to engage the apparent intruders in his bathroom as he was less able to flee his home.
But Nel wouldn't accept any of Derman's evidence, accusing him of bias and arguing that Pistorius did have other options. The prosecutor managed to get the witness to concede that, whether or not he knew he was shooting at Steenkamp, Pistorius did intend to fire the gun and, perhaps, to kill whoever he thought was behind the door.
Just as the defence was nearing the end of its case, a video emerged that looked set to become a major issue in court. The film, shot by US investigators hired by the defence, showed Pistorius walking on his stumps and re-enacting the night of the shooting.
Despite the massive controversy that arose, the video never came up in court due to it not being submitted as evidence. With that out of the way, Derman's testimony came to an end and the defence announced it had no further witnesses and closed its case.
With that, the dates for closing arguments were set as 7 and 8 August, meaning the trial had at last reached the final phases. After closing argument, Masipa will take some time to prepare her judgment and then deliver it. At that point, the moment the world has been waiting for will come; Masipa will reveal whether Pistorius is guilty or not guilty of the murder of Steenkamp.