Pretoria: Star Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is expected to take the stand for the first time when his murder trial resumes on Monday under the glare of the world’s media.
As the defence opens its case, the 27-year-old Paralympian will give the court his first account of why he shot dead his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013.
Pistorius has cut a lonely figure since his trial started on March 3, saying little since his “not guilty” plea besides the occasional “yes, milady” to Judge Thokozile Masipa.
How the double amputee known as the “Blade Runner” will hold up during the state’s cross-examination may prove a turning point in the case.
In the five weeks since the trial began, Pistorius has appeared fragile and annoyed, frequently crying in court and being physically sick when the gruesome details of Steenkamp’s death were discussed.
Unusually, he will not be the first defence witness. That will be Jan Botha, a pathologist who defence lawyer Brian Webber said had “personal reasons for why he has to take the stand first”.
Pistorius, who denies murder, has to explain why he fired four shots at Steenkamp through a locked toilet door at his home.
To do this, he has hired an extensive team of forensic experts to describe the events in the early hours of February 14, 2013, including an American animation firm that will visually depict the crime scene using three-dimensional computer generated images.
The experts will have to cast doubt on the state’s version of events, including testimony from witnesses who said they heard a woman screaming on the night of the murder, which would show Pistorius knew his target was Steenkamp.
Pistorius says he shot his girlfriend through a bathroom door after mistaking her for an intruder.
The judge adjourned the trial a week ago after a judicial assistant fell ill. Media interest in the case has slowly been declining, but Pistorius’s testimony is likely to grab global headlines.
The Pistorius testimony is expected to be particularly difficult for Steenkamp’s mother, June, who for the last weeks has sat through gruesome evidence, sometimes leaving the courtroom as graphic photos of the bloody crime scene were shown to the court.
When asked if the Steenkamp family is frustrated by the slow court proceedings, Dup De Bruyn, a lawyer representing the family, said no. “I’ve schooled them well,” he said. “They take it as it comes.”
The Steenkamps are seeking an out-of-court settlement with Pistorius for financial compensation following their daughter’s death, though negotiations have been postponed while the case is in court.
“That has been put on the back burner,” said De Bruyn, who is based in Port Elizabeth, a city in the Eastern Cape province.
Pistorius was recently spotted by local media lunching with his lawyers at an upmarket restaurant in Johannesburg.
Wearing a cream jacket and light blue shirt, the athlete laughed as he ate, a marked difference from his usual stressed appearance in court, where he is seen grinding his jaw throughout the proceedings.
The trial is slated to run to at least mid-May.