Oscar Pistorius trial: When will there be a judgement, what’s his defence – and what happens next?
Oscar Pistorius verdict looms as prosecution and defence present final arguments
Oscar Pistorius is returning to the North Gauteng High Court tomorrow as his murder trial enters its final stage before a verdict is announced. This is what you need to know:
What is Pistorius accused of?
The athlete is accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is his upscale home in Pretoria on Valentine's Day last year. He also faces three separate charges, including two counts of discharging firearms in public and possession of illegal ammunition.
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to all four charges, insisting that he fired at Ms Steenkamp in a case of mistaken identity thinking she was an intruder.
Pistorius has denied he fired a gun inside a restaurant just weeks before he shot Ms Steenkamp, arguing he did not know the weapon was charged and telling the court he did not pull the trigger. Similarly, he denied firing at a traffic light through a car sunroof, contrary to the testimony under oath of former girlfriend Samantha Taylor and Darren Fresco. He faces five years in prison for each count.
What happens on Thursday?
Defence counsel Barry Roux and state prosecutor Gerrie Nel will deliver their arguments for and against Pistorius before Judge Thokozile Masipa.
When will the verdict be announced?
Judge Masipa is expected to set a date for the verdict after the closing arguments and announce an adjournment, which could take weeks, before a conclusion is reached.
After five months in court, Judge Masipa has made it clear she wants to speed up the trial, which was supposed to last three weeks when proceedings began in March, and close the case as soon as possible. Once the verdict is announced, an appeal may be launched.
Who is judge Masipa?
A former crime reporter, judge Masipa became the second black woman to be appointed to the high court in 1998. She has a history of firm judgments in crimes against women, having handed down life sentences to several rapists, and former police Freddy Mashamba, who killed his wife in 2009. She is married and has a son. Her hobbies include dancing, gardening and yoga.
What is the prosecution's case?
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel argues that Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp had a fight before she shot her. A terrified Ms Steenkamp fled the bedroom and locked herself inside the en-suite toilet hiding from Pistorius, who then grabbed his gun and opened fire knowing Ms Steenkamp was inside.
As part of the case, the prosecution has cited evidence from neighbours, who claim they heard people arguing and a woman screaming, as well as physical evidence from the crime scene, which Pistorius claims was contaminated by investigators, and previous gun-related incidents. Mr Nel has portrayed Pistorius as a gun-loving, reckless man who often snapped as Ms Steenkamp, citing text messages between the couple in which she wrote "I'm scared of you".
The prosecution has also accused him of tailoring his evidence in court to suit his version of events and changing his defence three times, from self-defence to automatism and mental illness- this was dismissed by a panel of experts following a one-month psychiatric evaluation-, because his testimony in court was weak.
What is his defence?
Pistorius argues the couple had a quiet night-in and went to bed as usual. He insisted Ms Steenkamp did not scream and there was no argument in the run-up to the shooting. Instead, he claims he heard a noise coming from the bathroom which led him to believe someone had entered his house. As he moved closer to the ensuite-bathroom door, he heard the sound of wood moving and fired at what he perceived was "someone coming out to attack me" but did not intend to kill "Reeva, or anyone else".
Meanwhile, his legal team has continuously argued Pistorius was a very different man in the privacy of his home: he struggled to cope with his disability, was often in pain, struggled to maintain balance and grew up in a home where owning guns was normal. His double amputation as a child and the fact that he couldn't move without his prosthetic legs meant he was extremely paranoid about his personal safety.
What can we expect?
Pistorius faces a mandatory life sentence which usually carries a minimum of 25 years in jail if found guilty of premeditated murder, though mitigation could reduce it in this case. If found guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, he could face 15 years or a non-custodial sentence. Pistorius is currently free on bail.
South Africa does not have trial by jury, meaning the athlete's fate will be decided by judge Masipa, with the help of two assessors.
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