Oscar Pistorius briefly back in court for hearing

6/4/2013
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PRETORIA, South Africa  — Oscar Pistorius stood for his entire 15-minute court hearing today, staring straight ahead, hands clasped in front of him and giving away little emotion as the world got its first close up view of the double-amputee Olympian and murder suspect in nearly four months.

In stark contrast to the sobbing figure Pistorius presented through much of his bail hearing in February, the athlete appeared composed as Acting Chief Magistrate Daniel Thulare postponed the case until Aug. 19 to allow police more time to investigate the Valentine’s Day killing of his girlfriend.

Pistorius spoke just three words in court after the magistrate asked him if he understood he was still bound by the same bail conditions and must reappear then.

“Yes, your honor,” Pistorius replied in a voice which croaked at first, but which also had an air of newfound calm ahead of a trial which won’t start until September, at least, and will likely be a long, slow process.

Pistorius faces a life sentence in prison, with a minimum of 25 years, if convicted of premeditated murder, the charge against him for the Feb. 14 shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp.

Having faced up to the rows of television cameras and photographers that gathered around him today when he entered Court C, clamoring for their first images of him in months, Pistorius then kissed a family member and left the dock after the short appearance. He didn’t comment to reporters.

In a macabre coincidence, the case will continue on what would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday, and the model and law graduate’s parents this week pleaded in an interview with a British television channel for answers to the killing where only Pistorius and Steenkamp were present.

“I want to know why he shot her because she must have been so afraid,” Steenkamp’s mother, June Steenkamp, told Channel 5.

The extension was sought by the prosecution, and will eventually give investigators six months to gather evidence, interview witnesses and prepare a case against Pistorius by the time he returns to court in August. Prosecutors said police should finish their investigation by then and the trial could start in September, but a verdict possibly won’t come until next year.

Since he was freed on bail on Feb. 22 — just over a week after killing Steenkamp in his home — Pistorius has been living as a virtual recluse, his family has said, with just two reported sightings of him in public.

The 26-year-old Pistorius has said he shot Steenkamp accidentally through a toilet stall door, thinking she was a nighttime intruder. The state alleges he and his 29-year-old girlfriend may have argued before her death and he intentionally killed her.

An athlete who had his lower legs amputated when he was a baby, and who then went on to run at the Olympics, Pistorius has faced up to challenges before — although none with the immensity of his looming murder trial.

Pistorius’ family said he was broken with grief in the immediate aftermath of Steenkamp’s death, but his uncle said he would be prepared for trial.

“He will be ready once the court case starts and he will be able to stand as a man in that courtroom,” Arnold Pistorius said in excerpts from a South African television interview Sunday and released by his family.

Steenkamp’s family — none of whom were in court — also spoke out ahead of the hearing, with her parents telling Britain’s Channel 5 on Monday that they were still desperate to know the reasons behind the shooting, and also that their daughter had told them about previous arguments with Pistorius.

“I just feel why couldn’t I have warned her, or known something about this person (Pistorius), that they could be capable of doing something like that,” June Steenkamp said in the interview.

Pistorius arrived at the courthouse in a silver SUV with black blinds covering the windows, and used the main public entrance and not the back or side entrances he arrived at during his four-day bail hearing. He was then forced to walk past dozens more photographers and television crews which crowded him outside, with police roughly pushing back reporters to make way for Pistorius to pass.

The Olympian’s news-dominating case has never been far from the world’s headlines, but Acting Chief Magistrate Thulare also warned today of “scandalous and possibly contemptuous” reporting by some media in Pistorius’ case following the publication of pictures by another British television station last week. The leaked photographs purport to show the blood-spattered bathroom where Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp, firing his 9mm pistol four times through the locked door of a toilet stall and hitting his girlfriend with three bullets.

Prosecutors wouldn’t comment on those leaked images or which areas of the police investigation were still ongoing.

“The investigation is continuing and we believe by August, or even before August, we will have wrapped up everything,” prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. “As soon as everything is completed the court will announce a trial date.”

Pistorius’ trial will likely be heard at Pretoria’s High Court.