JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The world will likely only be given a 10-minute snapshot of Oscar Pistorius at a hearing Tuesday ahead of his murder trial, a fleeting glimpse of the Olympic athlete when he appears for the first time since he was whisked away into a near four-month period of reclusion after being freed on bail.
Prosecutors say the hearing at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court will probably only last around 10 minutes and will be postponed until a date in August as police investigators continue to gather the evidence that will be presented at trial, possibly in September or October at the city’s High Court.
There, a judge will determine if the double-amputee runner could spend 25 years in jail for the Valentine’s Day killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Since leaving the magistrate’s court building in South Africa’s capital city on Feb. 22, released on bail after being charged with premeditated murder, Pistorius has been seen in public just twice. And while Tuesday’s hearing will likely provide little new insight into the case against him, it will give millions their first close — if short — look at the 26-year-old runner in months.
Pistorius was sobbing the last time he was in court, days after shooting Steenkamp dead through a locked toilet door in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14.
He says he killed his 29-year-old girlfriend by mistake, believing she was a dangerous intruder in his home. Prosecutors maintain he killed her intentionally, knowing she was behind the door when he fired four times into the stall with his 9mm pistol.
Since he was removed from public glare in an SUV with darkened windows at the end of that intensely scrutinized bail hearing, Pistorius has been photographed in his famous carbon fiber blades on his practice track in March, and reportedly visited a Johannesburg restaurant with some friends in April.
Other than that he has been living in self-imposed isolation, his family says, surrounding himself with memories of Steenkamp, sometimes growing a beard to disguise his identity and only occasionally leaving his uncle’s house to attend church services.
The smiling global sporting inspiration is gone.
“He’s battling. But with the family behind him, his sister living in the same house as he lives … they assist him a lot,” his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said Sunday. “And we are preparing him. He will definitely be ready. Being the mind that he is, being the man that he is, he will know what it’s going to take to do this event.”
Arnold Pistorius said his nephew will be ready “once the court case starts and he will be able to stand as a man in that courtroom.”
As his trial edges closer and prosecutors gather the final pieces of evidence and complete the state’s witness list, Pistorius’ team is preparing to defend the 11-page affidavit he presented in bail proceedings and which allowed him to be freed.
He will deny murder and argue he believed he was acting lawfully and in self-defense when he fired the shots that killed Steenkamp with his licensed handgun, criminal and firearm law experts say, even though the athlete concedes now that he made a deadly error.
Pistorius also will be expected to explain his justification for those tragic actions in minute detail by taking the stand and testifying at his trial. A judge will ultimately pronounce him guilty or innocent. South Africa does not have trial by jury.
The Olympian is claiming “putative self-defense,” said lawyers who are knowledgeable about the case but are not representing Pistorius. The lawyers, drawing from the unusually detailed affidavit Pistorius’ presented, said Pistorius will maintain that in the darkened room, and in a calculation that was gravely mistaken, he decided to fire the shots that killed the model and law graduate because he was certain she was an intruder and both their lives were in danger.
It’s a difficult defense for any accused, legal experts say.
“The fact that he has admitted that he has killed her by pulling the trigger means the state has a prima facie case and it is expected of the accused to come and convince the court otherwise,” Marius du Toit, a former prosecutor, magistrate and now defense attorney with over 20 years’ experience in South Africa’s justice system said. “His version is going to be exposed and scrutinized in the finest, finest detail.”
And there will be many questions.
“I do not see how Oscar Pistorius could have concluded that a closed door constitutes danger to such an extent that his life is in danger, bearing in mind that he had gone into that situation,” leading firearm lawyer Martin Hood said. “So, it begs the question, why did he go looking for trouble?”
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