/ 19 August 2013

Pistorius: 107 witnesses over 14 days in March

Oscar Pistorius heard in court what charges he will face in March 2014.
Oscar Pistorius heard in court what charges he will face in March 2014. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

If ever there was a trial that would overrun on its schedule, it will be that of Oscar Pistorius. Prosecutors and the runner's defence team on Monday said they agreed to schedule his trial in the North Gauteng High Court between March 3 and March 20 next year – just 14 days for what is already clear will be a complex matter, with over 100 witnesses to testify.

A formal indictment on charges of murder and the illegal possession of ammunition was formally served on an occasionally emotional Pistorius as scheduled in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court during his 12-minute appearance on Monday. The indictment lists 107 witnesses for the state, including at least 18 of Pistorius's neighbours in the upmarket housing estate where he shot Reeva Steenkamp, a long list of police officers and forensic experts, paramedics, former girlfriends of Pistorius and several of his family members.

Also among the witnesses listed is footballer Mark Bachelor, who says an argument with Pistorius escalated to the point where the latter threatened to break his legs.

Though the witness list indicates that prosecutors intend to paint Pistorius as a man of high temper with a fondness for guns and a poor attitude towards women, the indictment also shows they will argue he intended to commit murder, even if he did believe (as he has willingly declared) that he thought he was shooting at an intruder.

"The accused said to witnesses on the scene that he thought she [Reeva Steenkamp] was an intruder," the indictment for murder reads.

"Even then, the accused shot with the direct intention to kill a person. An error in persona will not affect the intention to kill a human being."

Pistorius is expected to call his own forensic experts and other witnesses too; although he does not dispute that he shot and killed Steenkamp, minor details from the scene that could give any indication of his intent could be fiercely contested.

Insiders also warned the trial could see detailed argument about the admissibility of key evidence, which could lead to time-consuming trials within a trial.

"This thing is going to take months; don't be fooled by those dates they are talking about," said a prosecuting officer, who is not authorised to speak to the media.

Pistorius on Monday initially appeared impassive as he entered the courtroom for his first public appearance since June, despite facing a wall of cameras. But during a wait of over half an hour due to an unexplained delay in the start of proceedings, the athlete wiped away the occasional tear as he held hands and prayed with his siblings, Carl and Aimee.

Monday would also have been Steenkamp's 30th birthday.

Despite the brief and inconsequential nature of the appearance, it attracted a great deal of attention, even outside the packed courtroom. Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana made an appearance to speak about Steenkamp and the dangers women face more generally, while prisoner-rights activist Golden Miles Bhudu staged a one-man demonstration outside the court building.

According to the indictment, Pistorius does not yet face additional charges for the reckless discharge of firearms on previous occasions, but such charges are known to be under discussion and may form part of proceedings in March.