For the first time in nearly four months, Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympian accused of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, has appeared in court.
During the 15-minute hearing, according to reports, Pistorius cut a much more composed figure than he did at his weeklong bail hearing in February, during which he frequently broke down in tears. Police arrested Pistorius on Valentine’s Day and charged him with murdering Steenkamp. Pistorius acknowledged at the bail hearing that he shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, through the bathroom door at his home in a secure compound in Pretoria, but he denies murder and says that he mistook his girlfriend, with whom he says he had spent a quiet night at his home, for an intruder hiding in the bathroom. He said at the bail hearing that he shot her with a gun he kept for security. The defense argues that the murder charge should be reduced to culpable homicide. At today’s hearing Judge Daniel Thulare postponed the case until Aug. 19 (which by coincidence would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday). The prosecution had asked for more time to prepare for the case.
Pistorius’ brief appearance in court (he spoke just once, to confirm that he understood the magistrate’s instructions not to violate his bail conditions before his next court appearance in August) has for the first time in months cast the spotlight on the 26-year-old, who became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympics. A 400-m runner, he raced against able-bodied athletes at the London Olympics last year. Pistorius has made only a few confirmed trips out of his uncle’s house in Pretoria since February.
His coach Ampie Louw told the Daily Telegraph that, while Pistorius is continuing to train at home, “mentally, he’s still battling.” His manager Peet Van Zyl told Der Spiegel: “Oscar sleeps poorly. He eats poorly. When you talk to him, of course he listens but I don’t reach him, he’s not there. He cries a lot.” That’s in contrast to claims (which are disputed by Pistorius) made in South Africa’s Sunday Times in April that a “relaxed-looking and talkative” Pistorius was seen out drinking and socializing in Johannesburg, in the same week that his family released a statement saying that he mourned Steenkamp’s death every moment of the day.
Postponing the trial, Thulare warned against “trial by media,” after grisly images purportedly of the crime scene leaked to Britain’s Sky News channel showed what appeared to be bullet holes in the bathroom door and a trail of blood leading from the bathroom. Pistorius’ lawyers have alleged that the police deliberately leaked the images in order to influence the trial, while the police have blamed the defense team for the leak.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority insisted that the leaked pictures won’t affect the case, and that evidence collected at the scene by police was adequately secured, reports News24, after earlier reports implied that the crime scene may have been contaminated. During his testimony at the February bail hearing for Pistorius, the former lead detective in the case, Hilton Botha, admitted that police could have contaminated the crime scene and failed to properly catalog evidence.
Pistorius’ reappearance in public has also refocused attention on Steenkamp’s parents, who are still searching for answers about what really happened to their daughter. A documentary titled Why Did Oscar Pistorius Kill Our Daughter? aired on Monday on Britain’s Channel 5. In it, Steenkamp’s mother claimed the model was afraid of Pistorius, whom she had been dating for just a few months, and that the couple had argued frequently in the weeks leading up to her death. The program also showed some of Steenkamp’s personal letters, photographs and drawings, including what her parents called a “premonition”: a picture painted by the teenage Reeva depicting a gunman, an angel and a stairway to heaven.