Judgment day for Oscar Pistorius in girlfriend murder trial

Sep 11, 2014, 08:31 IST | AFP

Johannesburg: "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius appears in court today to face judgment over the killing of his model girlfriend, ending a six-month trial that turned the amputee's private life into a global spectacle.

Oscar Pistorius during the murder trial in a Pretoria court recently. Pic/AFP
Oscar Pistorius during the murder trial in a Pretoria court recently. Pic/AFP 

The 27-year-old celebrity athlete faces life behind bars — and notoriety that would eclipse his athletic achievements — if found guilty of deliberately killing lover Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013.

Two-day procedure
Judge Thokozile Masipa's ruling, on charges of murder and three firearms offences, will likely be laid out in two days of careful legal argument and then a final verdict, perhaps on Friday.

The high-drama, half-year trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts veering into the realm of TV reality shows.

Nearly 40 witnesses testified, including Pistorius, who broke down, weeping and at times vomiting as he heard how the 29-year-old blonde's head "exploded" like a watermelon under the impact of his hollow-point bullet.

'Egotistical liar'
Prosecutors described him as an 'egotistical liar obsessed with guns, fast cars and beautiful women, who was not prepared to take responsibility for his actions.' The court heard transcripts of phone messages in which the pair argued, Steenkamp texting: "I'm scared of you sometimes, of how you snap at me."

Defence lawyers sought to explain there are "two Oscars" — a world-class athlete and a highly vulnerable individual with a serious disability who acted out of fear, not anger, when he fired the fatal shots. All the while the sister and mother of the woman he killed looked on from the packed public gallery.

The number of gold medals Pistorius won at the Athens, Beijing and London Paralympic Games for South Africa 

How the verdict could unfold...

1. It's over to Judge Masipa and the two assessors
Judge Masipa will begin proceedings by evaluating the evidence, in turn all the while careful to evoke strong case law and limit cause for appeal. She will then turn to her judgement. Unlike trial of US football hero OJ Simpson, who was controversially acquitted by a jury, Masipa is assisted only by two assessors.

2. In worst case scenario Oscar could be jailed for 25 years
Masipa may decide that Pistorius is innocent, resulting in an acquittal. But if she decides Pistorius deliberately murdered Steenkamp, he could face a life sentence, which in South Africa means 25 years in jail. A lesser charge of culpable homicide could still carry a prison term.

3. An appeal in a higher court could also be made
Any guilty verdict is unlikely to be end of the matter. There will be more courtroom arguments before a sentence is handed down and, most likely, an appeal to a higher court. Whatever happens, Pistorius' glittering sporting career is likely to be over. He has already been stripped of endorsement deals.

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