Battle lines drawn in Oscar Pistorius court fight as legal team fight girlfriend murder charge

Bail hearing will see continued attempts by star’s representatives to spare him life sentence

Daniel Howden
Monday 18 February 2013 01:00
Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria magistrates court after spending a
night in police custody
Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria magistrates court after spending a night in police custody

Oscar Pistorius will return to court in South Africa on Tuesday with strong signs that his legal team will fight the charge of premeditated murder.

Even as further unconfirmed gruesome revelations spilled out from the crime scene at the athlete’s Pretoria home, including that a bloodied cricket bat had been found, the Pistorius family denied that the running star had deliberately shot his girlfriend, the model Reeva Steenkamp.

According to reports, scientists are examining blood found on the cricket bat, recovered from the star’s bedroom. It was also claimed that post-mortem results indicated Ms Steenkamp’s injuries included a fractured skull. Police denied leaking information to the media, but did not deny the claims.

Tuesday’s bail hearing may last into Wednesday as Mr Pistorius’s lawyers attempt to keep him out of jail and magistrates grapple with overwhelming interest from the media. One of the most recognisable faces in sport, the double amputee has so far been held at a Pretoria police station on the grounds of his disability.

There may be no further pictures of the Paralympian after images of him weeping during Friday’s appearance were published despite the court banning cameras. Prosecutors have already signalled that they will oppose bail. It is unclear how Pistorius will plead.

The appointment of a team of high-profile criminal lawyers, a top pathologist and British spin doctor Stuart Higgins – a former editor of The Sun – has stirred comparisons with the OJ Simpson trial and forensic evidence collected from the athlete’s luxury home is expected to be the main battleground at a future trial, at which these are expected to be the key questions:

The case for the defence...

The first hours following the news of Ms Steenkamp’s death were dominated by speculation that she had been shot in a Valentine’s Day surprise gone wrong. Police have insisted that they were not the source for this suggestion but friends and family who spoke to the athlete in the early hours of Thursday morning continue to insist that is what happened. The runner’s uncle Arnold Pistorius reiterated that the track star had not shot Ms Steenkamp deliberately: “We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the state’s own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all.”

...and the prosecution

Footage from security cameras at the gated community of Silver Woods has been handed to police. Sources claim it shows the 29-year-old model arriving at Mr Pistorius’s house mid-way through Wednesday evening. Neighbours said there was shouting during the evening. Shots were heard about 3am. Police and paramedics who arrived at the scene reportedly found Ms Steenkamp dead in her nightie on the second floor of the house, suggesting she arrived earlier and stayed the night.

Any other evidence?

Unconfirmed reports suggested that a bloodied cricket bat may have been used in the attack. However, police sources suggested that most items in the bedroom had been spattered with blood. Authorities in South Africa have brought in the same splatter expert who dealt with the murder of right-wing white separatist leader Eugène Terre’blanche in 2010.

Diminished responsibility?

In the hours after the killing, Pistorius was taken to hospital for blood tests. If traces of narcotics are found it remains a possibility that his lawyers may argue diminished responsibility. If successful that would reduce the life sentence that would be a minimum were he convicted of premeditated murder.

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