Blade Runner Pistorius faces day in court

Last updated 08:52 03/03/2014
steenkamp parents

GRIEVING: Reeva Steenkamp's parents, Barry and June, speaking to the media after her death.

Oscar Pistorius
HORRIFIC ENDING: Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius.

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The mother of Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend says she just wants to look him in the eyes for the first time since he shot and killed her daughter.

The Olympic and Paralympic track star is to stand in a Pretoria dock later today to face a charge of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day 2013. He claims he mistook her for an intruder hiding in the toilet.

"I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva," 67-year-old June Steenkamp told The Mail on Sunday.

Whatever the court decided at the end of the trial, she would be ready to forgive Pistorius.

"But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva's mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me. I feel I need that," she said.

June Steenkamp never met Pistorius while he was dating her daughter, speaking to him only once by telephone.

On that occasion her daughter phoned from Pistorius' car and pleaded with her to tell Pistorius to drive more slowly.

"I warned him that if he hurt my baby in any way I would wipe him out. He just kept saying, 'Ok, Mrs Steenkamp'."

Steenkamp had been the baby of the family, its "laat lammekie", or late lamb, June Steenkamp said.

"She was beautiful and bright, a top university student with a law degree, just dabbling in the world of modelling and reality television in the big city before she came back home to us to join a law practice."

June Steenkamp has insisted on having a prominent seat in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, where the courtroom will be packed.

She would be accompanied by lawyers and her elder daughter Simone, but not husband Barry, 70, who recently had a mild stroke and will remain in their home village in the countryside outside Port Elizabeth.

Since the death of her daughter she has refused to read newspaper reports or watch television documentaries.

"It will be torture for me to have to listen to evidence about my lovely girl's last moments, but I need to know what she went through, and why he did it. That is my obsession: the truth about why Oscar did what he did that night," June Steenkamp said.

HIS DAY IN COURT

The trial is a decisive chapter in the story of the rise and fall of one of the world's most recognisable athletes.

Barring a last-minute change of heart, the 27-year-old South African will enter a plea of "not guilty".

He has already admitted to culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, a crime that could see him put away for 15 years. Or he could leave the Pretoria High Court a free man, with no more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Pistorius - known as the Blade Runner after his carbon-fibre running prosthetics - fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through the door of the toilet adjoining the bedroom of his luxury Pretoria home in a deliberate attempt to kill whoever was lurking behind it.

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Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate, women's rights campaigner and regular on South Africa's celebrity party scene, was hit three times, in the head, arm and hip. She was declared dead at the scene.

Coming less than a month after the rape, disembowelling and murder of a teenager near Cape Town, the case caused outrage and drew further attention to the shockingly high levels of violence against women in South Africa.

If the state succeeds in convincing Judge Thokozile Masipa of intent to kill, Pistorius will go down for life, in all likelihood a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

The trial before Masipa - juries were abolished by the apartheid government in the 1960s - is set to last a minimum of three weeks but with as many as 107 witnesses waiting to be called by either side it is almost certain to last far longer.

Most legal experts say proving intent in the absence of direct witnesses will be tough. Some members of the public are sceptical too.

"In this country money talks, so I don't know if there is any justice, if justice really will be done," Pretoria resident Kutullo Makgoba said.

DOWNFALL

Whatever the verdict, the career of an athlete who just 18 months ago had the admiration of the world is over - a downfall as precipitous as that of American football star OJ Simpson, who was cleared in 1995 of murdering his wife and a male friend.

When he reached the semi-final of the 400 metres at the 2012 Olympics competing against able-bodied athletes, the double amputee was elevated to the pantheon of sporting greats, a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

After nearly a decade as the world's most recognisable Paralympian, the Olympics transformed him into one of track's most bankable stars, his rugged good looks and ready smile winning sponsors as varied as sportswear giant Nike, sunglasses maker Oakley, French designer Thierry Mugler and British telecoms firm BT.

As he stood sobbing uncontrollably in the dock of a Pretoria magistrate's court moments after being formally accused of murder, those sponsors evaporated, depriving him of an estimated US$2 million (NZ$2.12m) a year in endorsement revenues.

The picture of Pistorius that emerged, both in court and in the media, during the week-long bail hearing was a far cry from the star's carefully groomed media-friendly persona.

Instead, the private Pistorius was revealed to be a hot-headed young man with an obsession with weapons.

Police said they had found unlicenced .38 handgun ammunition in his house, while his Twitter account revealed he had once boasted of going into "full attack recon mode in the pantry" after thinking an intruder was in his home.

In one widely reported incident, he accidentally discharged a pistol under the table in a swanky Johannesburg restaurant. In another, he put a bullet, in a fit of rage, through the sun-roof of a previous girlfriend's car.

Critics pointed to the irony of a hastily pulled Nike advert that showed Pistorius bursting out of the blocks beneath the tagline: "I am the bullet in the chamber".

To counter the slew of allegations that have surfaced in the media over the last year, Pistorius' public relations team has set up a Twitter account (@OscarHardTruth) urging followers: "Do not judge without knowledge. Allow the truth to prevail".

Mindful of the domestic and global interest in the case, a judge ruled on Tuesday the trial can be broadcast live, apart from moments when witnesses request the cameras be turned off.

However, in his decision, Judge Dustan Mlambo also pointed to the need for transparent justice, a nod to the inequality that still marks South Africa two decades after the end of apartheid and the view that wealth can skew trial outcomes.

"The justice system is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and the vulnerable," Mlambo said.

- Fairfax and agencies

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