Oscar Pistorius Trial (The State vs Oscar Pistorius)

The State vs Oscar Pistorius is a murder trial of Oscar Pistorius taking place at the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. The trial started on Monday March 3, 2014.
Oscar Pistorius
Start Date March 03, 2014
Status Completed
Court North Gauteng
High Court
Pretoria, Gauteng
South Africa
Judge Thokozile Masipa
State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel
Defense Attorney Barry Roux
Defendant Oscar Pistorius

Charges

Murder
Firing a gun in a public space
Illegal possession of ammunition
Firing a shot through an open sunroof

Fatal Shooting Incident

Victim Reeva Steenkamp
Place Silverwoods Estate
Pretoria, Gauteng
South Africa
Date February 14, 2013

Trial Outcome (verdict)

Date Sep. 11 – 12, 2014
Not Guilty of murder or premeditated murder
Guilty of Culpable Homicide
Guilty of firing a gun in a public space
Not guilty of illegal possession of ammunition
Not guilty of firing a shot through an open sunroof

Sentence

Date October 21, 2014
5 years in Prison for Culpable Homicide
3 yrs in prison suspended for 5 yrs (public shooting)

Prison Facility

Kgosi Mampuru II prison

Bail Hearing

Commencement February 19, 2013
Conclusion February 22, 2013
Court PTA Magistrate’s Court
Magistrate Desmond Nair
Outcome Granted
Bail Amount R1 million

Oscar Pistorius, who admitted to firing shots, of which one or more killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, claiming that he mistook her for an intruder, was charged by the state with murder.

Furthermore; he was charged with firing a gun in a public space, illegal possession of ammunition and firing a shot through an open sunroof.

The state claimed that Pistorius planned to, and intentionally shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.

Oscar Pistorius was not found guilty of murder but instead was convicted of culpable homicide.

He was sentenced to 5 years in prison and began serving his sentence at Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria on October 21, 2014.

On December 10, 2014 Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the prosecution can appeal the culpable homicide conviction in pursuit of a murder conviction.

 

Oscar Pistorius Background

Pistorius is a South African double amputee sprint runner. He gained world attention as an athlete with a disability competing at a high level, including 2004, 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games and the 2012 Summer Olympics.

During his bid to compete with able bodied athletes, he was the subject of criticism because of claims that his artificial limbs give him an advantage over runners with natural ankles and feet.

Pistorius attempted and failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and later failed to earn a selection for the 4 × 400 metres relay team as four other runners had better times than him.

He later qualified for the 2012 London Olympics. On August 4, 2012, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games.

In the 2012 Paralympics, Pistorius caused a controversy by complaining about the length of Alan Oliveria’s blades, this was after he came second to him and lost out on the Gold Medal.

Prior to the relationship with Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius was in a publicized relationship with Samantha Taylor.

In September 2012, he appeared together with Taylor on SABC 3’s Top Billing on holiday in the Seychelles.

In November 2012, Pistorius arrived at the South African Sports Awards Bash in Sandton with Reeva Steenkamp. This raised the question of the whereabouts of Taylor.

A little over three months since they first appeared in public together, on February 14, 2013, Steenkamp was shot and killed by Pistorius in his Silverwoods Country Estate home in Pretoria.

Steenkamp was a Law graduate, a model and television personality.

On February 16, 2013 two days after Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed by Oscar Pistorius, season five of Tropika Island of Treasure premiered on SABC 1.

Tropika Island of Treasure 5 was filmed in Jamaica and was hosted by DJ Fresh and Rosina Casserly.

The first episode was dedicated to Steenkamp and was preceded by a video tribute to her.

 

The Shooting and Arrest

In the early hours of  Thursday morning on February 14, 2013 the media reported the shooting at the Silverwoods Country Estate home of Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius was reported to have shot his girlfriend after he mistook her for an intruder.

At the time, the police would not reveal the identities of those involved in the incident:

Oscar Pistorius on February 14, 2013
Oscar Pistorius on February 14, 2013

Police spokeswoman Lt-Col Katlego Mogale said a 9mm pistol had been found at the scene and a 26-year-old man was taken into custody.

“Paramedics declared the woman dead on the scene and police proceeded with their investigation. The woman sustained wounds to her head and upper body,” spokeswoman Lt-Col Mogale said.

Oscar Pistorius was taken to Boschkop police station before being transported to Mamelodi Day Hospital.

Sarit Tomlinson, MD of Capacity Relations, Steenkamp’s publicity agency, said in a statement: “We can confirm that Reeva Steenkamp has passed away… Our thoughts and prayers go to the Steenkamp family, who have asked to have their privacy respected during this difficult time. Everyone is simply devastated.”

Later in the day on February 14, 2013, it became official that Reeva Steenkamp had been shot and killed by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius at his Pretoria home.

Pistorius spent his first night in police custody and was formally charged with murder in a Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on February 15, 2013.

 

Bail hearing

The bail hearing began on February 19 at Pretoria Magistrate’s Court under Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair.

During the bail hearing, the prosecution and the defence said that Pistorius had fired four shots through a locked bathroom door, hitting Steenkamp, who was inside the bathroom, three times.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel claimed that Pistorius had put on his prosthetic legs, walked across his bedroom to the bathroom, and intentionally shot Steenkamp through the door.

Nel argued that the time required for this process was sufficient to establish the alleged murder as premeditated.

Pistorius said that he had thought Steenkamp was in the bed, and that the person in the bathroom was an intruder. He also said he had not put on his prosthetics before shooting into the bathroom.

Chief investigating officer Hilton Botha said at the bail hearing that a witness had heard gunshots coming from Pistorius’ home and then a female screaming followed by more gunshots; he initially said the witness was 600 metres away, but later said the distance was 300 metres.

Botha also said the trajectory of the gunshots indicated that they had been fired downward and directly toward the toilet, seemingly conflicting with Pistorius’ statement that he was not wearing his prosthetics at the time.

He acknowledged that procedural mistakes had been made during the crime scene investigation and that police had found no evidence inconsistent with the version of events presented by Pistorius, adding later that equally nothing contradicted the police version either.

On February 22, Botha was removed from the case following revelations that he was facing attempted murder charges stemming from a 2009 incident and was later replaced by Vineshkumar Moonoo.

At the conclusion of the four-day bail hearing, Magistrate Nair said that the state had not convinced him that Pistorius posed a flight risk and fixed bail at R1 million.

On June 4, the court case was postponed to allow time for further investigation until a hearing at Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on August 19, when Pistorius was formally indicted on two charges of murder and the illegal possession of ammunition.

The indictment noted that even if Pistorius was mistaken in the identity of the person he shot, the intention was to kill. The dates for a trial to be held at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria were set from March 3, to March 20, 2014.

Murder Trial

The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius began on March 3, 2014 at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Pistorius is accused of premeditated murder and illegal possession of ammunition, and is also facing two additional charges of firing a gun in a public space.

The trial was assigned to Judge Thokozile Masipa, who appointed two assessors to assist her.

North Gauteng High Court, Courtroom where Pistorius case is taking place
North Gauteng High Court, Courtroom where Pistorius trial is taking place

Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, including murder and several gun-related charges.

When the trial go underway on Monday, March 3, the first witness, Michelle Burger who took to the stand shortly after Pistorius told the court he was pleading not guilty, told the court that she heard a woman’s “blood-curdling” screams coming from Pistorius’ house, setting the tone for the state’s bid to show that he murdered Reeva Steenkamp after a domestic row.

Samantha Taylor, Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend also testified for the state. She told the North Gauteng High Court that she, Pistorius and his friend, Darren Fresco, were stopped by police for speeding. Pistorius and Fresco stepped out of the car and Pistorius left his gun on the seat. After checking the car, the policeman told Pistorius that he should not have left his gun on the seat, said Taylor. “Oscar shouted at the policeman and said he shouldn’t touch his gun,” said Taylor. The three of them then drove off. “Oscar and Darren were irritated and they said they wanted to shoot a robot,” said Taylor.

“About two minutes later, Oscar took out his gun and shot through the roof…. perhaps out of spite,” Taylor said, adding that it was through an open sunroof.

Fresco, himself was called by the state to testify. Darren Fresco had handed Pistorius a gun that went off in a crowded restaurant in Melrose Arch Johannesburg in a separate incident.

Pathologist, Professor Gert Saayman, told the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that the bullets fired from Oscar Pistorius’s gun which killed Reeva Steenkamp are known as expanding bullets. They were designed to cause maximum tissue damage.

The bathroom door, through which, Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp became the centre of attention when it was brought in as evidence after it had been taken by police for testing.

On Wednesday March 19, the ballistic expert Captain Christian Mangena testified that Steenkamp was standing in a toilet cubicle facing the locked door when she was hit in the right hip by the first of four bullets fired by Pistorius.

On Sunday March 23, 2014, the office of the chief justice released a statement announcing the extension of the trial until May 2014.

The Oscar Pistorius trial continues… on Monday 24 March to Friday 4 April,” said spokesperson Lulama Luti in a statement. She said the court would then be in recess until 11 April. “After the recess, the trial will resume on Monday 14 April until Friday 16 May.

  • Mental Evaluation

On Wednesday May 14, 2014 Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered that Oscar Pistorius be mentally evaluated.

This was after a defense witness claimed that Oscar Pistorius suffered from a general anxiety disorder stemming from the amputation of both legs below the knee at the age of 11 months after he was born without fibula bones.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said that the court was ill-equipped to decide whether the diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder raised by a defence witness affected Pistorius’s actions on the night he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the bathroom of his home in Pretoria.

Judge Thokozile Masipa went on to say that further psychiatric tests were necessary to ensure a fair trial.

On Monday May 26, 2014 Oscar Pistorius was admitted to the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria as day patient to undergo a 30-day mental health evaluation as per court order.

On Monday June 30, 2014 the trial resumed after a report prepared by the psychiatrists who examined him found that “at the time of the alleged offenses, the accused did not suffer from a mental disorder or mental defect that affected his ability to distinguish between the rightful or wrongful nature of his deeds”.

  •  Verdict

On Thursday September 11, 2014 the verdict was heard at the North Gauteng High Court, Judge Thokozile Masipa found Oscar Pistorius NOT guilty of murder and cleared him of premeditated murder.

The verdict drew mixed to negative reactions as the South African public as well as the international community felt that Judge Masipa was too lenient on Oscar Pistorius.

On Friday September 12, 2014 Judge Thokozile Masipa found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide.

Furthermore, she found him guilty of firing a shot in a Johannesburg restaurant in 2013 and NOT guilty of firing a shot through an open sunroof and for the illegal possession of ammunition.

The parents of Reeva Steenkamp, June and Barry Steenkamp, expressed their disappointment with the outcome saying that the founding of Oscar Pistorius not guilty of murder and guilty of culpable homicide was not right.

  • Sentencing

The Sentencing proceedings in the trial of Oscar Pistorius began on October 13, 2014 at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Gauteng province in South Africa.

The defence and the prosecution both led testimonies; with the defense arguing that sending Pistorius to prison would be too harsh and further asking that he be sentence to house arrest.

On Friday October 17, 2014 Gerrie Nel for the prosecution said the minimum sentence the people expected was 10 years.

On Tuesday October 21, 2014 Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the culpable homicide conviction.

He was also sentence to 3 years in prison for the conviction of firing a gun in a public space, the 3 year prison term was suspended for 5 years.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that both sentences will be served concurrently (simultaneously).

Oscar Pistorius is currently serving his sentence at the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria, Gauteng.

On December 10, 2014 Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the prosecution can appeal the culpable homicide conviction in pursuit of a murder conviction.

 

Media Coverage

The trial of Oscar Pistorius has been a subject of media frenzy from day one. It has received notable coverage in South Africa and abroad. Among others; Time, Vanity Fair and The Guardian have covered the trial.

An application made by e.tv’s 24 hour news channel eNCA, MultiChoice and Eyewitness News of Primedia to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to broadcast the proceedings of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial was opposed by the defence team.

On February 25, 2014, Judge Dunstan Mlambo ruled that the entire trial proceedings may be broadcast live via audio and that parts of the trial may be broadcast live via television, subject to various restrictions to minimize any impact on the trial proceedings.

In his judgement Mlambo granted ultimate discretion regarding what may be broadcast to the presiding judge in the trial, Thokozile Masipa.

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