One year later, South African court mulls TV cameras for Bladerunner trial

One year after the South African sprinter known as “Bladerunner” shot and killed his model girlfriend, a court in Pretoria is debating whether to allow Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial to become an international media spectacle.

Pistorius, who released a rare statement on the first anniversary of his shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, who he claims he mistook for an intruder in the night, goes on trial March 3. In his statement, the double amputee expressed regret about the killing.

"No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved - and continues to love Reeva," Pistorius wrote. "The pain and sadness -- especially for Reeva's parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow. The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, the North Gauteng Judge President’s office began deliberating whether TV cameras are will be allowed in court for the trial. Global fascination with the case has driven dozens of lawyers representing local and international l news organizations to argue that cameras should be able to beam the action live to the world.

The case could drag on for months or possibly even years, say experts. Although Pistorius is expected to argue he thought he was shooting a burglar, a South African prosecution insider told that it is not important who Pistorius thought he was killing, it is murder.

Prosecution plan to pursue two other charges, of separate incidents of discharging a firearm in public, at the same time as the murder rap.  Among the witnesses on the prosecution’s list is a locally famous soccer star who was allegedly threatened by Pistorius.

The prosecution will be trying to paint a picture of former poster boy Oscar as trigger-happy and prone to fits of uncontrolled temper, say experts.

This week Pistorius’ legal team finally reached an out-of-court settlement with a young woman who alleged that as far back as 2009 she had become injured when the Bladerunner reportedly punched a door.

The trial has been scheduled for three weeks, in a country where murder cases frequently take up to two years to resolve. And that’s before an often lengthy appeal process.

“If I was a betting man, I’d say there’s an 85 percent chance that the trial will not be over in three weeks,” said Llewellyn Curlewis, president of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces of South Africa.

The biggest factor in the trial’s duration, Curlewis said, is how Pistorius pleads. If the Bladerunner agrees to much of the prosecution’s scenario, but protests innocence over the question of intent, the trial could be short, he said.

Such a strategy would mean many of the 107 witnesses on the prosecution’s list won’t need to be cross-examined, and may not be called at all. But with the main witnesses likely to be interrogated for around two days at a time, Curlewis guesses there will be delays and the trial will drag out.

“At the end of the three weeks the case will be postponed, and an instruction from the judge for the matter to be brought back to the court, because of the international interest,” he predicted.

However, the courts and lawyers will by now be booked for other cases, so Curlewis believes the trial won’t restart until August or September, and, again depending on the plea, may be completed towards the end of the year, or continue into 2015.

Which is why the court has permitted the arguments over TV coverage to happen before the trial even starts. A South African Justice Department senior official, speaking on conditions of anonymity, told that the Judge President wishes to avoid the media feeding frenzy that took place in the nearby magistrates court when Pistorius appeared to decide bail last year.

Lawyers believe therefore that only pool TV cameras will be allowed inside, one or a few cameras that will relay common images to the world, and precedent suggests they will only be turned on for a few minutes each day before proceedings get under way, and possibly again after the court has completed sitting at the end of the day.

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