Pistorius Trial: a marathon legal battle

oscar in court

Tesse Heijmerink

On Monday the 3rd of March the trial against Oscar Pistorius started in the courtroom of the North Gauteng High Court in the South African capital. The so called ‘Blade Runner’ is accused of murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of the morning on Valentine’s Day last year at his home in Pretoria.
Apart from the murder charges, Pistorius faces charges of illegal possession of ammunition and two additional counts relating to shooting a gun in public in two separate incidents before February 2013. The marathon legal battle is scheduled to last at least three weeks – but could last as much as six weeks due to 107 witnesses potentially taking the stand – and will not just throw a spotlight on the world-famous athlete, but also on South Africa’s homeland criminal justice system and gun culture.
Although Pistorius’ lawyers opposed the application, permission was granted by a judge to broadcast live television pictures and live audio feed from the courtroom, including opening arguments, evidence of experts, police witnesses and closing arguments. A 24-hour channel has even been set up by Multichoice, the channel is called “The Oscar Pistorius Trial – A Carte Blanche channel” and is the first of its kind in South Africa. There are, however some restrictions on the live broadcast; the testimony by Pistorius and defence witnesses will not be shown. Moreover, some prosecution witnesses can also ask for their testimony not to be shown and the trial judge has the option of stopping the live coverage if it becomes intrusive.

The judge presiding over the case is Thokozile Masipa, a former crime reporter who only completed her law degree at 43 and in 1998 became the second black woman on the Transvaal bench. Her judgements are said to reflect her strong opinion about violence against women. The prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, has over 30 year’ experience and has handled some of South Africa’s biggest cases. He finds himself pleading against defence counsel Barry Roux, a senior advocate of the Johannesburg bar with a colourful history of clients; including Dave King and apartheid-era police chief Lothar Neethling.

The trial featuring the double leg amputee athlete only started yesterday (Monday 3 March) but is already being compared to that of the O.J. Simpson case in the United States in 1994/1995. Similar to the Pistorius case, former professional football star and actor O.J. Simpson was tried on two counts of murder, including the death of his ex-wife. Moreover, the case has been described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history. Like O.J. Simpson, the Paralympic champion pleaded “Not guilty, my lady” to each of the charges against him at the court yesterday. The world is watching closely to see what the verdict will be.

For more information see:

Oscar Pistorius Hires Dream Team Ahead of Murder Trial           

South African Judge Gives Nod To Televising Murder Trial Of Oscar Pistorius 

Oscar Pistorius: South Africa gears up for its ‘trial of the century’

“Not guilty, my lady”     

Oscar Pistorius trial: witness recalls ‘bloodcurdling screams’      

The Murder Trial of O.J. Simpson             



About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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