JOHANNESBURG – A recap of the key elements in the Oscar Pistorius case as the double-amputee Olympian returns to court Tuesday for a hearing ahead of his murder trial for the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14:
THE CASE THAT STUNNED MILLIONS:
A legal case with few equals for global attention when it comes to sports figures, Pistorius went from inspiring Olympic runner to murder suspect in a swirling frenzy of front-page headlines after the athlete killed his girlfriend in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day. Pistorius will appear in court Tuesday for the first time since being released on bail on Feb. 22, having convinced a magistrate that there were exceptional circumstances to allow him to be freed despite a premeditated murder charge. Pistorius denies murder and contends in an 11-page affidavit submitted to the court in his bail hearing that he shot Steenkamp dead by accident in the darkened bathroom of his villa, mistaking the model for a nighttime intruder. Prosecutors say he intended to kill her, possibly after a loud argument, and knew she was there when he fired four times through a toilet door with his 9mm pistol.
THE BLADE RUNNER:
The 26-year-old Pistorius made history at last year's London Olympics by becoming the first double-amputee to run track at the games, a momentous achievement after he was born without fibulae and had his lower legs amputated before he was a year old. A natural athlete, Pistorius achieved instant success at his first Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, just a year after taking up athletics. He fought through an international ban and a very different court case in 2008 to win the right to compete against able-bodied athletes on his carbon fiber blades. Along the way he became a huge star, earning endorsements from companies like Nike and hero status in South Africa, and around the world, for his determination in overcoming adversity.
THE PAST 3 MONTHS:
Since he was freed on bail in February and whisked away in the back seat of an SUV with blackened windows, there have been just two sightings of Pistorius in public: A grainy cellphone photograph of him on his practice track taken by a teenage schoolgirl in March, and a reported visit to a restaurant in April, when he was criticized by a South African newspaper for "partying." His family said he had gone to the restaurant with friends but strongly denied any inappropriate behavior. Since then, Pistorius has been living in virtual isolation, his family says, sometimes growing a beard to disguise his identity and rarely leaving his uncle's house, except to attend church services. Pistorius' older brother, Carl, was recently cleared of a culpable homicide charge in relation to a road crash in 2008.
Pistorius' legal team will argue that the athlete believed he was acting in self-defense and within the law when he fired the shots that killed Steenkamp in the early hours of Feb. 14, even though the athlete now accepts that he made a terrible error. Pistorius said in his affidavit, where he effectively gave his version of the night's events, that his fear of South Africa's high rate of violent crime and the fact that he didn't have his prosthetic legs on led him to feel "vulnerable" and believe his and his girlfriend's lives were threatened by a dangerous intruder.
The prosecution has already had almost four months to gather evidence in the killing, evidence that it hopes will back up its assertion that Pistorius may have argued with Steenkamp on the night of the shooting and then shot her intentionally after she fled to the bathroom and locked herself in a toilet stall. The prosecution said in initial arguments at the four-day bail hearing that Pistorius took the time to put his prosthetic legs on before walking to the bathroom to shoot an "unarmed and innocent" Steenkamp, and charged him with premeditated murder. He faces a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison if he is convicted of that charge.
Prosecutors say Tuesday's appearance will be brief, possibly lasting just 10 minutes, as the state applies for more time to complete its investigation, gather evidence and compile a list of witnesses to call at trial. Pistorius' case is expected to be postponed for another hearing in August. A trial would then be sent to the High Court in Pretoria, the National Prosecuting Authority says, and could start in September. What the world will see Tuesday is Pistorius up close for the first time in months since he cut a sobbing, broken figure during his bail hearing — just a few days after he killed his girlfriend.