7 Things You Should Know About the Oscar Pistorius Trial

Photo: Jim Thurston/Flickr

Source: Jim Thurston / Flickr

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Paralympic champion who ran at the 2012 London Olympics on his prosthetic legs and is known as the “Blade Runner,” is in the midst of a high-profile murder trial in his native South Africa. Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp, his 29-year-old girlfriend.

Here are some things to know about the case.

1. Pistorius concedes that he was the one to shoot Steenkamp, but says that he did so after mistaking her for a nighttime intruder in his home. Prosecutors instead allege that Pistorius shot Steenkamp after an argument.

2. South Africa has some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and recent statistics show that crime there is the worst it has been in a decade. Increases were noted in the following categories: murder; attempted murder; violent, armed house robbery; and carjacking. Pistorius has said he’s “acutely aware” of South Africa’s violence, and that he had a gun nearby for such reasons: “I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason, I kept my firearm, a 9mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I [go] to bed at night.”

3. Much of this case will be focused on the testimonies surrounding noise from Pistorius’s villa and the sequence of events after 3 a.m. Neighbors say they heard a woman’s voice calling for help, while Pistorius’s lawyer argues that a man and woman’s voice were never heard at the same time, thus presenting the possibility that the noises were coming solely from Pistorius.

4. Pistorius is not only charged with premeditated murder but also with other counts relating to shooting guns in public in unrelated incidents, including firing a gun through the sunroof of a car and discharging a firearm under a table. He is also being charged with illegal possession of ammunition. Pistorius could receive five years in prison for each gun indictment.

5. Though the trial is being televised live, a previous court order ruled that witnesses must give their consent to be filmed. This resulted in the trial’s delay after a photo of the first witness — who asked that her image not be broadcast — was leaked.

6. If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa. Analysts say Pistorius could be charged with less time if convicted. There is no death penalty in the country.

7. Unlike the United States, South Africa has no trial by jury. Judge Thokozile Masipa will ultimately deliver the verdict and decide on a sentence. Masipa, who has 15 years of experience as a judge, worked previously as a social worker and crime reporter with a South African newspaper. She is known for her competency and reserve, as well as for her previous work on several high-profile cases. “No one is above the law,” she has said.

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