The Trial of Oscar Pistorius
View EWN's in-depth analyses of the evidence, the crime scene, the State's case, the defence, and more.
OSCAR PISTORIUS TRIAL
- The Big Players
- The State: Profiles
- The Defence
- State's Case
- Defence's Case
- unanswered questions
THE BIG PLAYERS
The Oscar Pistorius trial has already been dubbed the trial of the decade and has been compared with that of US football star OJ Simpson who stood trial for the murder of ex-wife.
The world’s media will descend on the North Gauteng High Court to document and detail every development around the case and the personalities involved will not escape scrutiny.
The trial will see some of the country’s premier legal minds and forensic experts facing off against one another.
Keeping control of the courtroom will be Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa.
She was appointed to the bench in 1998, in what was then known as the Transvaal Provincial Division, becoming only the second black woman judge in the country after former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.
Prior to Masipa taking up law, she was a social worker, crime reporter and magazine editor. She was at the helm of Queen magazine and was also a copywriter for a number of advertising agencies, as well as the World and Post newspapers.
During her 16 years as a judge, she has presided over several high-profile matters in the media spotlight. In 2013, Masipa sentenced infamous house robber and rapist Shepherd Moyo to more than 250 years in prison. She has previously sentenced rapists to life in prison and made strong remarks about the alarming escalation of violence against women. In 2009, she sentenced a policeman to life behind bars for shooting dead his ex-wife.
In 2008 Masipa handed down a landmark ruling, known as the Saratoga Avenue judgment, confirming the City of Joburg had duties to provide alternative shelter for people are under threat of eviction from private land, if that eviction would lead to homelessness.
In another notable judgment, she dismissed an application by former Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga in 2010. He was challenging the termination of his contract and wanted R85 million in compensation from the parastatal.
THE STATE: PROFILES
Leading the prosecuting team is Advocate Gerrie Nel.
Nel, who grew up in Limpopo, is a relentless prosecutor who argues with such intensity and sense of justice that his personal investment in his cases is apparent. He earned his stripes as a junior prosecutor for the State against former Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis and right-wing Polish immigrant Janus Walusz, who were convicted of assassinating South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani at his home in 1993.
Nel joined the now defunct Scorpions in 1999 and became the Gauteng head of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO). He led the ‘Bad Guys’ investigation into the empire around murdered mining magnate Brett Kebble and successfully prosecuted former police chief Jackie Selebi for corruption.
In 2008 Nel was sensationally arrested by the SAPS in a pre-dawn raid on his Pretoria home on trumped-up charges as part of a dirty turf war between the Scorpions and the SAPS. He was pulled off the Kebble murder trial before he could complete it.
Nel led the successful prosecution in the Chanelle Henning murder case, with several men convicted for the 2011 killing of the Pretoria mother.
During the Pistorius trial Nel will be assisted by his junior, Advocate Andrea Johnson.
The petite, fiery prosecutor marches through court with barrels of gumption. She was schooled in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Scottburgh and was quickly promoted through the echelons of the civil service. Her first job was prosecuting in Alberton before doing a short stint in the district courts, where she was the first ever junior advocate to secure a life sentence at the time. Johnson became a senior state advocate in 1999 and was among the first batch of prosecutors assigned to the Scorpions on 1 December 1999. She has worked closely in tandem with Nel ever since, assisting him in both the Selebi case and the Henning matter.
The police investigation has been led by Captain Mike van Aardt. A seasoned detective with a specialty in cracking serial killer cases, the portly van Aardt is a highly regarded cop. He worked under so-called ‘supercop’ Piet Byleveld in the team that solved the Leigh Matthews murder, the Sheldean Human case and the Moffat Park serial killer mystery. Van Aardt took over the Pistorius matter from Hilton Botha, the initial investigating officer after it emerged during the bail application that he too was facing criminal charges.
Divisional commissioner of the detective service Lieutenant General Vineshkumar Moonoo will play an oversight role, monitoring the police work on the case. He joined the SAPS in Durban in 1981 and has experience in various departments in the organisation. Before being appointed as the divisional commissioner of the detective service, he was the head of general investigations at the detective service. He also held the positions of area head of the detective service in the Soweto area, section head of evaluation, monitoring and operational development and component head for organised crime. Moonoo is a familiar sight on crime scenes in Gauteng and has been keeping an eye on the special task team investigating Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir.
Senior Advocate Barry Roux is one of the country’s most high-profile defence counsel and is no stranger to cases that have garnered media attention. Born in Mafikeng in 1955, Roux was schooled in Lichtenberg in what was then known as the Western Transvaal. He joined the Department of Justice when he left school and studied for his law degree Unisa. Roux worked as a prosecutor while still studying before being appointed as a relief magistrate at just 22 years of age. He lectured Law of Evidence at the Justice Training College in Pretoria before deciding to go to the Johannesburg Bar in 1982. Roux specialised in criminal law and medical negligence cases and achieved silk in 2000.
In what is likely his longest running case, Roux acted for so-called ‘tax dodger’ businessman Dave King in a multi-billion rand, eleven yearlong case with the South African Revenue Service. The former Rangers Football Club director finally settled the matter, agreeing to pay the taxman in excess of R700 million.
Roux prosecuted another high-profile businessman Roger Kebble for fraud but the case was struck off the roll in 2005. In what was known as the ‘Skilled Labour Brokers’ affair, Kebble was charged with siphoning off money paid to SLB while he was in control of the Durban Roodepoort Deep mining company. Roux also featured in the case surrounding the murder of Kebble’s son Brett. He acted for Clinton Nassif, the Kebble’s former head of security, who sold out the mining magnate’s hired hit-men in exchange for a deal with the Scorpions. Roux withdrew from the case after convicted drug-dealer Glenn Agliotti claimed that Roger Kebble had paid Roux not to prosecute him. The allegations were never proven.
Barry Roux and Gerrie Nel dealt with one another during the Kebble investigation but have met in courtrooms on a number of other occasions. The most notable was in 1999, in the case of Kempton Park dentist, Dr Casper Greeff, who was accused of paying a handyman to kill his wife and make it appear to be a robbery. Roux lost that round to Nel when Greeff was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Roux’s junior advocate in the Pistorius case is Kenny Oldwage who was admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 2002. Prior to that he was a police officer. Oldwage has also featured in high-profile cases. He successfully defended Sizwe Mankazana, who was charged with culpable homicide and drunk driving after the car he was driving crashed, killing Nelson Mandela’s 13-year-old great-grandchild Zenani.
Oldwage acted for Kaizer Chiefs boss Bobby Motaung in his R143 million case of fraud, corruption and forgery in the Mbombela Regional Court. Motaung and his co-accused faced charges relating to the construction of the Mbombela Stadium for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The charges were thrown out of court and the case struck from the roll in June 2013.
He’s no stranger to the Pistorius family and represented the Olympian’s brother Carl during his own trial in the Vanderbijlpark Magistrates Court. Carl was acquitted of culpable homicide in May 2013. He was charged after an accident in 2008 that led to the death of a female motorcyclist. Blood tests conducted by the police proved that he was not under the influence of alcohol at the time.
Durban forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal has been hired by the defence team to provide expert testimony. He’s one of only two private forensic pathologists in the country and thus regularly testifies in court cases against the State. He has featured in the case of the death of former South African cricketer Tertius Bosch, the murder of socialite Rajiv Narandas and is on brief for the Legal Resources Centre to investigate the Marikana miners shooting in 2012. He was also hired by the Zimbabwean vice-president Joice Mujuru to help investigate the murder of her husband Zanu-PF heavyweight Solomon Mujuru. Perumal grew up in Chatsworth and studied medicine at the University of Durban Westville. He worked at the district surgeon’s office before going into the private sector in 1994, at the age of 39.
The defence has also hired ballistic expert Tom ‘Wollie’ Wolmarans and blood spatter specialist Jannie van der Westhuizen. Wolmarans claims to have conducted more than 15 000 investigations in the field of firearms investigations and has testified in more than 800 cases in South Africa and abroad. He was also apparently employed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
THE STATE’S CASE
The State’s indictment against Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius is clear – it will argue that "upon or about the 14 February 2013 and at or near his resident at Silver Lakes, the accused did unlawfully and intentionally kill a person, to wit, Reeva Steenkamp".
Prosecutors are going for the strongest charge possible – Premeditated murder – a Schedule Six offence – which means they will have to show that the athlete acted intentionally and that he deliberately wanted to kill.
The summary of substantial facts, which forms part of the indictment, says Steenkamp "locked herself into the toilet cubicle, the accused armed himself with his 9mm pistol and through the locked door, fired four shots at the deceased".
The indictment claims that even if Pistorius mistook his girlfriend for an intruder, ‘the accused shot with the direct intention to kill a person’ and ‘an error in persona, will not affect, the intention to kill a human being’. In other words, even on his own version, he should be guilty of Murder.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel revealed the State’s version of events during the bail application – but there have been months of investigations and consultations with witnesses since then. While some details may have changed, the essence of the argument is likely to remain the same.
The State will argue that at around 3am in the morning – Pistorius and Steenkamp were in the midst of a heated argument. Steenkamp made her way into the bathroom and barricaded herself in the toilet cubicle, locking the door. It’s likely that she then crouched down behind the toilet. The State will say that Pistorius followed her, walked the seven metres towards the bathroom, armed with his gun, and shot four times through the toilet door.
During the bail application – then investigating officer Hilton Botha – told the court that the bullets were fired "from 1.5 metres away" and "from a normal stance". He suggested the trajectory of the bullets was downwards, towards the toilet seat, and that Pistorius had on his prosthetic legs at the time.
Over a year later, and with the results of forensics and ballistics tests still to be revealed, it’s thought that the State may have to partially backtrack on this version – ballistics are believed to show that the Blade Runner did not have on his prosthetics and was on his stumps at the time.
Evidence from neighbours will be crucial to proving the State’s case – according to the indictment "Some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming."
Nel explained to the court:
“Even on his own version there was no imminent danger in the bedroom. Yet he was keen to arm himself, it’s indicative of someone willing to kill. You only fire four shots if you want to kill. He should have foreseen the consequences of firing four shots in a 1,4m x 1,4m room… He must have fired to kill. I walk seven metres, I see a bathroom door, I shoot. The motive is to kill.”
THE DEFENCE’S CASE
Oscar Pistorius took the bold step of deposing to a statement during his bail application – this means he has put a version of events down, under oath, and he’ll have to stick to it.
According to Pistorius – on the night of the 13th of February, at about 10pm, he was in bed watching TV while Steenkamp was doing her yoga exercises. They went to sleep. He woke up in the early hours of the morning and went onto the balcony to bring in the fan and close the sliding doors. He believes that while he was outside – and unbeknown to him – the model must have slipped into the bathroom to relieve herself.
The Olympian says he then heard a noise in the bathroom and realised someone was there – an intruder. He then felt a sense of terror rushing over him as there are no burglar bars across the bathroom window and contractors had left ladders outside.
Pistorius says he did not have his prosthetic legs on at the time, but he does have mobility on his stumps.
He grabbed his 9mm pistol from underneath his bed and on the way to the bathroom, screamed at the intruder to get out of the house and for Steenkamp to phone the police. He insists the room was pitch dark and he thought his girlfriend was in bed.
Once inside the bathroom, he noticed that the window was open and that there was movement inside the toilet cubicle. Filled with horror and fear, a sense of vulnerability and duty to protect Steenkamp, he fired shots at the toilet door.
Steenkamp didn’t respond when he shouted at her to call the police so he backed out of the bathroom in the dark.
When he reached the bed did he realise that Steenkamp was not there and it dawned on him that it could have been her inside the cubicle. He rushed back to the toilet, couldn’t open the door, rushed back to the bedroom, opened the sliding door to the balcony and screamed for help.
It was then that he put on his prosthetic legs, switched on the lights and bashed down the toilet door with a cricket bat. He found the key on the floor, unlocked the door and found Steenkamp slumped over but alive.
Pistorius says he then phoned the estate administrator John Stander and phoned Netcare before carrying her downstairs where she died in his arms.
WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS
While it is believed that around 85 percent of the forensic evidence is not in dispute – both sides will want to show that what experts found on the scene supports their version of events. They will scrutinise the evidence of the ballistics, blood spatter, cellphones, witness statements and others.
- State and Defence agree that four shots were fired.
- Four cartridges were found – three in the bathroom and one in the passage.
- State argues the position of three cartridges in bathroom supports their case – that he was in the bathroom with his back to the basins.
- Defence argues that Pistorius was on his stumps at the entrance of the bathroom.
- State argues that firing four shots is evidence of ‘intent to kill’.
- State and Defence expected to agree that trajectory was downwards.
- State previously argued that shots were fired from 1.5 metres away.
- Bullet fragment was found by defence expert in the toilet bowl.
PROSTHETICS VS STUMPS
- Defence says Pistorius was on his stumps
- State originally argued he had his prosthetic legs on. This could change.
- State and Defence agree that the door was locked.
- State says Steenkamp locked the door to get away from Pistorius.
- Defence says she locked the door when she heard Pistorius shouting at intruder.
- Steenkamp was hit three times – right ear, right elbow and right hip.
- Defence will contend she was sitting on toilet seat at the time.
- State will argue she was hit by the first bullet and then fell or was crouching when struck.
- Defence argues that her bladder was empty – consistent with its version that she had gone to the toilet to urinate.
- Steenkamp was wearing white shorts and black vest.
- State and Defence agree weapon was 9mm parabellum registered to Pistorius.
- Gun was found on the shower mat in the bathroom, next to the cellphones
- State says position of gun could show ‘immediate remorse’ – he dropped it on the mat after the shooting.
- Defence says position of gun is consistent with its version – Pistorius would have dropped the gun there while trying to get to Steenkamp.
- Two iPhones found on the shower mat in the bathroom, next to the gun.
- State says location of phones support its case – why would Steenkamp take her phone to the bathroom at 3am and leave it on the mat?
- Two other phones were found in Pistorius house.
- Call records on these phones show no calls to emergency services on the night.
- A fifth cellphone belonging to the athlete was handed over to police later – Defence argues this phone was used to call estate administrator and paramedics.
- State questions why this phone wasn’t handed over earlier.
- State still battling to get access to the phone’s Apple ID and has engaged Apple in the US for assistance.
- State and Defence agree that the bloody cricket bat was found in the bathroom.
- Bat was used to break down the door not attack Steenkamp as initial media reports suggested.
LIGHTS ON OR OFF
- Defence argues it was pitch dark in the bedroom at the time of the shooting but light coming in from window in bathroom.
- State witnesses may contend that the lights in the house were on at the time of the shooting as the couple was arguing.
SLIPPERS, OVERNIGHT BAG AND GUN HOLSTER
- All three items were found on the same side of the bed – the ‘left’ – nearest the sliding door.
- Defence argues that on the night, Pistorius slept on the left because he was struggling with a shoulder injury. Usually he sleeps on the ‘right’ furthest from the door.
- State argues Pistorius would have had to walk past Steenkamp three times without checking to see if she was in the bed.
- Defence argues Pistorius left her in bed and assumed she was still there but she slipped out while he was on the balcony.
- State says witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming. Some suggest two rounds of gunshots.
- Defence says witnesses were more than 600 metres away, could not be sure of this testimony and contradict themselves.
- State will have to show motive to prove intent.
- State has not specified motive, only to say there was an ‘argument’.
- Defence says Pistorius’s motive to shoot was out of fear.
- State questions why the front door was unlocked, the sliding door open and why he ‘stormed danger without his prostheses’.
- Why didn’t Pistorius check where Steenkamp was when he got out of bed?
- Why didn’t he ask who was in the toilet?
- Why didn’t he fire a warning shot?
- Why didn’t Steenkamp answer back when he shouted?
- Why didn’t Pistorius and Steenkamp ‘escape’ out the bedroom door?
- Why would Pistorius rush towards danger on his prosthetics?
- Why did Pistorius sleep on the ‘left’ side of the bed on that night?
- Why did Steenkamp lock the toilet door?
- Why did Steenkamp take her cellphone to the bathroom with her?
- Why was the front door to the house open?
- Why didn’t the dogs make a noise if someone was breaking into the house?
- Were the contents of the toilet bowl tested to check for urine?
- Was Steenkamp’s bladder empty?
- What does the post-mortem say?
- Why didn’t Pistorius put on his stumps before shooting?
- What do the ballistics say? What was the trajectory of the bullets?