South Africa’s golden boy, Oscar Pistorius was the first amputee to compete as an able-bodied Olympian. But today, the man known as the Blade Runner is on trial for murder in a Pretoria courtroom, defending himself to a judge in the Valentine’s Day 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend, supermodel and TV personality Reeva Steenkamp. He claims it was an accident. Here are 10 more things you didn’t know about the Oscar Pistorius Trial.
1. Judge, no jury
Oscar Pistorius’ trial began on March 3 in Pretoria’s High Court with Judge Thokozile Masipa (above) presiding, and entered its fourth week on Monday. Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all charges, but admitted to shooting Steenkamp. He claims he mistook her for an intruder. Unlike the U.S. justice system, in South Africa a judge, and not a jury, decides the case. Because of the lack of a jury, the final verdict has a better shot at an appeal in South Africa than in the U.S. If Pistorius is found guilty of murder, the appellate court is likely to attempt to overturn the charges.
Police Capt. Francois Moller, testifying for the prosecution, showed the judge downloaded messages from Steemkamp’s iPhone during the fourth week of the trial. Although 90 percent of the chats between the two were loving, there were a few messages that showed a darker side to Pistorius.
“I’m scared of you sometimes, of how you snap at me,” one text message read.
Also presented in week four testimony was a text message that Steenkamp sent to Pistorius a week before he shot her when the two were leaving a public event together. It read in part:
“I didn’t think you would criticize me … especially so loudly that others could hear … I regard myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one after we left.”
The prosecution questioned neighbors who claim to have heard screaming the morning Steenkamp was shot to death. Anette Stipp testified that she awoke early Feb. 14, 2013 and heard “terrified, terrified screaming … It sounds to me as if there’s a family murder, why else would she scream like that?”
The Oscar Pistorius trial was initially scheduled to conclude on March 20, but is now expected to continue until mid-May, the South African court announced in a written statement. Testimony will continue until April 4, then break for a one-week recess before starting again on April 14 with an estimated May 16 conclusion.
The reason the trial has been extended is the prosecution is still wrapping up its case against Pistorius. This is expected to happen this week, and then the defense will have its turn. Pistorius is expected to take to the stand in his own defense, possibly as early as this week.
The entire trial has been an international media circus with journalists from around the world descending on Pretoria. Almost the entire trial has been televised, although individual witnesses do have the option of choosing whether or not to be shown on TV. This includes Pistorius. When he takes the stand the audio of his defense will be broadcast live, but he can block a video feed, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
If the judge decides Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, the Olympic athlete who competed in the London 2012 Summer Games faces a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years before he is eligible for parole.
The judge could also decide to convict Pistorius on a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence, that carries a lesser penalty.
Barry Roux, an Afrikaner who many describe as “cocky,” but who has told reporters he is actually “just a teddy bear,” is the Pistorius defense attorney. He is up against seasoned prosecuting attorney Gerrie Nel, who has been described as “fiery,” and co-prosecutor Andrea Johnson. They are presenting Pistorius as a man with an angry, if not trigger-happy nature.