Oscar Pistorius Court Appearance

Update: The Indictment and 107 person witness list is here, courtesy of journalist Barry Batemen of Eyewitness News. The first charge is the unlawful and intentional killing of a person. (On page 2 the indictment says it doesn't matter if the person killed not the person one intends to kill. In other words, the state doesn't have to prove he intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp, only that he intended to kill someone.) The second charge is illegal possession of 38 rounds of ammunition at his home. [More...]

He was not charged, as previously speculated by the media, charged with two new charges related to separate incidents in which he allegedly fired his gun through the the sun roof of a moving vehicle or accidentally discharged a firearm while inside a restaurant.

The Pretoria Magistrate's courtroom opened to reporters two hours before today's hearing for Oscar Pistorius. Oscar was officially charged with murder and illegal possession of ammunition. (section 90 of the Firearms Control Act.) Trial was set for March 3 to 20, 2014 in the North Gauteng High Court. Magistrate Desmond Nair (who granted his bond application) presided over today's hearing.

A leaked ballistics report supports Oscar's statement that he was not wearing his prosthetic devices when he went to bathroom and fired his gun. He claims he thought there was a burglar in the bathroom and shot Reeva Steenkamp by accident.

At the bond hearing, the prosecution claimed he was wearing his prosthetics and argued this supported its theory that he had more than enough time to check whether his girlfriend was still in bed with him.

It sounds like the prosecution is short on evidence related to the shooting. To compensate, it may try to introduce unrelated past incidents to show he had arguments with girlfriends (who hasn't) and liked to shoot guns.

[B]y adding more gun-related charges, the prosecution has shown its hand by adopting a strategy whereby it will home in on Pistorius's "aggressive" behaviour to try to show he was prone to violent outbursts, which, it will say, was why he killed Steenkamp.

Pistorius has at least three top forensic experts on its team: Forensic pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, ballistic expert Tom "Wollie" Wolmarans, and blood spatter expert Jannie van der Westhuizen.

An unnamed source familiar with the defense says:

"The defence will try to show that his actions were reasonable for a person with a disability. Such a person would feel more vulnerable than an able-bodied person and react differently when their life is in danger.

Court was delayed more than a half-hour. There were a lot of spectators in the courtroom. Reporters were inside the courtroom with their big cameras waiting to capture his arrival. They were allowed to photograph Oscar in the dock until the Magistrate entered the courtroom.

At 9:07 am, Oscar arrived in a white Range Rover. The crush of media around him was intense. He entered the court around 9:16 and had to stand there having his picture taken until 9:55 am, when the Magistrate entered. Mostly he stood looking down with his sister and brother holding his hand. Here's a closeup of his face.

At one point, his sister Aimee shed a few tears, and Oscar took out a hanky to dry her eye.

The Magistrate asked if Oscar was well. He answered that he was, given the circumstances. The Indictment was presented, the prosecutor requested the case be transferred to the High Court. Trial was set for March 3 to 20, 2014.

The Indictment charges that Oscar shot with the direct intention to kill a person. The state says "some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream followed by a silence then heard gunshots."

There are 107 names on the state's witness list, including former footballer Mark Batchelor, ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor, Oscar's uncle Arnold, and sister Aimee.

Thanks to these individual reporters who I followed during the bond hearings and who did just as good a job today. And Reuters live video service which live-streamed events outside and inside the courtroom (from which I got the screengrabs.) (Note: Edited to reflect actual charges filed rather than those anticipated by media.)

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    all you needed to do was scroll past (5.00 / 2) (#22)
    by TeresaInPa on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 06:21:46 PM EST
    this was one of the few places where the case was discussed in terms of facts and evidence.  Every where else it was all people indulging in group think dependent on their politics.
    I found it a great relief.

    I agree, Jeralyn did a great job. (none / 0) (#39)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 12:29:29 PM EST
    Regardless... (none / 0) (#1)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 09:53:01 AM EST
    ...if it was an accident, you don't get to kill someone IMO and walk away, even if my mistake.  I know this isn't the US, but how is pulling a trigger without validation any different than getting in a car drunk.  If anything shooting through a wall is far more dangerous when you know there is a human being on the other side.  

    The fact that he has a history of sloppiness with guns is further proof that some people whould not be allowed to own them.  Reeva Steenkamp is proof that Oscar Pistorius is an idiot who should have never owned a gun regardless if he did it willfully or my by mistake.  If only he has followed the law and not been in possession of those bullets...

    This case is the GZ redux, same people taking the same sides for the same reasons.  I hope TL doesn't follow a case outside the US with the same degree of scrutiny, but I doubt it.

    I follow several non-US cases (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:00:23 PM EST
    Eg, Schapelle Corby (more than 50 posts from 2005 to this week. I live-blogged the audio of her trial in Bali from a newssite that live-streamed it. The translation was not verbatim, but enough to get major points. Since the media so often removes their material, the live blogs can  serve as a historical account.

    Jeralyn, you might also urge readers ... (4.67 / 3) (#14)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 03:06:13 PM EST
    ... to take the time to learn the distinct differences between the South African and U.S. legal systems, so that they might get an idea as to what to expect as this case moves forward to trial.

    I can guarantee that there will be those who will call into question the capabilities of South African judicial system, and they will opine on the basis of American and not South African law, simply because there are going to be occasions when proceedings will sometimes offer a marked departure from what we've come to expect in American courtrooms. Like the Schapelle Corby case in Bali, this is an opportunity to educate people regarding how the law actually works in other locales around the world.

    For example, it is my understanding -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- that South African law only provides for the crime of murder, which is defined (simply and abruptly) as the intentional unlawful killing of another human being. Therefore, premeditation is not a necessary requirement to sustain the charge of murder, although a prosecutor can upgrade the charge to include premeditation, which provides for enhanced penalties to the charge of murder upon conviction.

    In this case, the charge pending against Oscar Pistorius is premeditated murder, although the presiding judge reserves the right to downgrade the charge to murder at a later date, if he feels that the evidence -- or lack thereof -- warrants the exclusion of any finding of premeditation.

    Further, a criminal defendant in South Africa does not have the right to trial by jury, and as of right now, Pistorius' fate will be determined by that single presiding judge in Magistrate's Court. However, given the serious and high-profile nature of this criminal trial, there is also the distinct possibility that the proceedings could be moved to High Court, where Pistorius would have his case heard by a Judge and two Assessors.

    The Assessors are usually retired barristers or magistrates, who will hear the evidence and testimony alongside the Judge and advise him or her during the course of the proceedings. While the Judge is not bound to consider their advice in his or her deliberations, he or she will usually take their opinions under advisement before rendering a verdict, because the two Assessors enjoy the joint legal authority to overrule a presiding High Court Judge on findings of fact.

    The South African Dept. of Justice and Constitutional Development has provided the public a brief but pretty thorough overview of the country's court system on its website.



    I Think A Very Important Difference (none / 0) (#23)
    by RickyJim on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 06:37:44 PM EST
    is that the evidence in a criminal trial is, unlike the US, not the private possession of the lawyers in the case, in which the other side has to perform all sorts of reciprocal discovery shenanigans to get it.  My guess is that the Magistrate is compiling a dossier of evidence that is given to both sides for the trial.  (In many countries, a separate "Investigative Judge" is given that job.)  I would also assume that like most countries, outside the US, the lawyers for both sides have to rely on the  police reports to know what witnesses will say at trial and are not allowed to depose and prepare witnesses.  Remember the scene in "A Fish Called Wanda" where Archie told Wanda to get lost when she told him she was a defense witness?

    If we take him at his word (5.00 / 4) (#12)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:19:17 PM EST

    It was not an accident.  Hitting a person after firing several rounds through a closed door when you believe another person is on the other side of that door is not an accident, it is the likely result.



    IMO you nailed that square on the head... (none / 0) (#19)
    by gbrbsb on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 04:12:24 PM EST
    and as the indictment notes:

    "An error in persona, will not affect the intention to kill a human being"

    so for the prosecution's case it is irrelevant whether it was Reeva or a burglar behind the toilet door. Don't know how the defence will argue but 4 shots, seems, at least to me, pretty intentional towards whoever was behind the door unless OP is a real quick shooter (was there no moan, yelp or scream with the first shot?). If I were him I'd be regretting not residing in the US where even suspected burglars, armed or not, are pretty much fair game so he would most likely not have even been questioned let alone arrested!


    There's always the Joe Biden defense... (none / 0) (#40)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 12:33:43 PM EST
    At first read I thought you were joking... (none / 0) (#48)
    by gbrbsb on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 03:36:59 PM EST
    OMG, he did actually say that too ! Great advice from Biden. To my limited knowledge there are already some in jail for doing exactly that: Marissa Alexander for one (albeit she shot through a wall and/or a ceiling) and a fella who in a hurricane shot through his trailer door to frighten off what he thought were opportunistic marauders coming to loot but which turned out to be police or something. Both are in jail on lengthy sentences!

    Scott, this differs from the GZ case (4.50 / 2) (#4)
    by SuzieTampa on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:37:55 PM EST
    because Pistorius isn't claiming that he was being physically attacked when he shot.

    I believe Scott's comparing both cases ... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:51:55 PM EST
    ... in terms of people's willingness to choose up sides and root for a particular outcome, regardless of the evidence to be presented at trial. He's not comparing them literally.

    Well, not sure that's correct because... (none / 0) (#51)
    by gbrbsb on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 03:57:12 PM EST
    as fear of being grievously bodily harmed or killed appears to be enough then my bet is, and IMBW, his defence will argue that being on stumps makes him very vulnerable, i.e. unable to make a quick escape for example, and therefore how long would he legally be expected to wait to see how much physical danger he was actually in before he could shoot away with impunity.d

    You may not believe me, (none / 0) (#2)
    by Visteo1 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 12:21:13 PM EST
    but I read the whole article without following any links and kept saying to myself, "Pistorius, Pistorius, why is that name so familiar?"  Had Jeralyn included "South Africa" or "blade runner" or something else my brain would have engaged.

    Meaning no disrespect, Scott, what are the reasons people are taking sides in this case?  (It will help me notice it as the comments come out)  


    Come On. (3.00 / 2) (#3)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:26:41 PM EST
    To the right there is a search option for TL.  Google, amazingly enough, also manages to search for things people are curious about.  And I am positive Wiki has an entry.

    FYI, some people like guns a lot, some people don't like innoscent people getting shot with them, hence the sides.  Think GZ, with the added bonus of Pistorius having a huge sports fan base.


    Why do people take sides in any case? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:48:53 PM EST
    IMHO, people have long been conditioned to view high-profile trials as a vicarious form of entertainment and / or competition, rather than an actual search for the truth. This case is no different.

    this is a criminal defense site (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:03:11 PM EST
    I always present the defense view. Also, taking the defense side is consistent with the presumption of innocence. Since no one has seen all the evidence, it would be wrong to presume guilt. This site is adamantly opposed to the mass culture of guilt-assumption that is promoted in the media. It is my intention to counter it.

    Thank you for the clarification. (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:48:19 PM EST
    I don't disagree with you on this at all. The media in this country has historically been one of the biggest barriers to the right of a defendant or prospective defendant to receive a fair and impartial hearing and trial.

    When someone denies that he or she (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by Anne on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 03:12:10 PM EST
    committed the crime charged, I think that maintaining the presumption of innocence is actually easier than when the person charged admits to - for example - firing the shots that killed someone, but disputes the state's interpretation of the events.

    When people hear, "yes, I killed her," most people are going to stop listening to anything that follows, regardless of whether that's "but it was an accident," or "I thought she was an intruder," or I was in fear for my life."  I think there are a fair number of people who don't consider these to be legitimate defenses to the legal definition of whatever the charge is, and instead, see them as efforts to get away with something they shouldn't be able to walk away from.

    So, when you say that since people haven't seen all the evidence, they shouldn't presume guilt, you're asking people to make sense of what amounts to "I did it, but because the law says X and I did Y, that means I'm innocent of the crime I'm being charged with."

    On a good day, that's a very hard sell.


    When (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by Mikado Cat on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 09:08:13 PM EST
    One person dies and the other lives, I have a tendency to have a bias in favor of the dead one. That one person lives makes me think they had more control over the situation. Maybe I was one of the few to draw parallels between Home Alone, and The Bad Seed.

    Oscar Pistorius hasn't been a case I have followed at all closely, but one I am happy to let run its course in court.


    Why be biased? (none / 0) (#29)
    by Char Char Binks on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 09:17:43 PM EST
    Being a "victim" (of wrongdoing, or simply getting the worst of it) isn't proof of moral high ground.  I presume innocence, not because of bias in favor of the accused, but because of the burden of proof.

    I do (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Mikado Cat on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 09:24:28 PM EST
    resume legal innocence, at least I think I do, maybe not, but ethical innocence, what a person "should" do I have bias's built into me that require active opposition for fairness. That I tend to support whichever side that doesn't seem to have its fair share of support.

    Assume. (none / 0) (#32)
    by Mikado Cat on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 09:25:29 PM EST
    not resume. I am weak without ability to edit.

    Self-Defense? (2.00 / 1) (#16)
    by squeaky on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 03:26:03 PM EST
    A hard sell?

    Not sure which cases you are comparing, but I can guess.

    It sounds like you prefer your murder cases with a healthy dose of window dressing, and semantics. Must make it easier for your  constitution to swallow the bill of rights.


    You are confusing (none / 0) (#26)
    by Char Char Binks on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 07:41:12 PM EST
    "committing an act" and "comitting a crime", deliberately or not.  True, there are people who can't understand the difference, and the presumption of innocence is a hard sell for them, but there are also people who don't know the alphabet or the day of the week, and they probably shouldn't serve on juries.

    IMBW but it seems to me that open systems (none / 0) (#55)
    by gbrbsb on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:50:22 PM EST
    as in the US, although with advantages has at least one disadvantage over a closed system in that it is precisely openness that gives rise to what you refer to as "the mass culture of guilt-assumption". Over here, with the media barred from informing on anything before trial there is nothing for masses to opine about until a verdict is out. This to the extent that just weeks ago the UK awoke stunned by the Daniel Pelka murder case of which we knew practically nothing until a mother and step father were convicted.

    IDK, but wouldn't even a "defence site" as yours find it difficult to maintain a presumption of innocence in the case of a six-year old starved and beaten by parents over a period of 6 months and after a beating being left to agonise alone for over 24 hours in a room with no handle on the door and with just a mattress covered with his own urine and excrement to die on? Over here, were details of cases as this to be published before trial the accused might not even make it to court which is why names of accused are often changed while in prison awaiting trial as was the case with the killers of "Baby P" a few years ago. In that case the jury weren't told the real names of the three accused until after the verdict.


    Ooops... the kid was just 4 years old ! (none / 0) (#56)
    by gbrbsb on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 03:12:29 PM EST
    this has nothing to do with (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:55:08 PM EST
    George Zimmerman so please don't bring his case up here. Comments about Zimmerman will be deleted.

    I live-blogged days of his bail proceedings, so yes I will be covering the case closely on court days.


    Sorry. (none / 0) (#11)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:10:26 PM EST
    I don't want to discuss GZ, my point which I made after your comment was that there are parallels which to me, are at the heart of this case.

    I won't bring it up again.  I only mentioned it because I believe the same people will be on the same side for the same reasons.

    I was not in any way making an actual comparison of the cases.  No more GZ, got it.


    I don't see a lot of taking sides in the (none / 0) (#27)
    by Mikado Cat on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 08:50:59 PM EST
    usual places. Some early comments about SA having the strictest gun control laws, but mostly seems like sympathy for Reeva. I see nothing like the division in other recent cases.

    I thought this was interesting (none / 0) (#37)
    by leftwig on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 09:27:22 AM EST
    "A leaked ballistics report supports Oscar's statement that he was not wearing his prosthetic devices when he went to bathroom and fired his gun. He claims he thought there was a burglar in the bathroom and shot Reeva Steenkamp by accident.

    At the bond hearing, the prosecution claimed he was wearing his prosthetics and argued this supported its theory that he had more than enough time to check whether his girlfriend was still in bed with him."

    Would it really take a ballistics report to get an idea of whether OP was wearing prosthetic legs or not?  IT seems it would be fairly easy to see where the holes were on the door to know whether he had them on or not.  I don't really see why the prosecution would care whether he had his prosthetics on or not.  I guess I see that if he took the time to put his prosthetics on that he had time to prep and was in a more "offensive" position.  On the flip side, if you are concerned your handicap would put you at a disadvantage, I don't see that you would go towards the perceived danger to an open bathroom versus getting you and your GF to a safe place and calling police.  I would say that he chose to move towards the danger, not knowing what/who might be waiting for him, hinders the defenses claim that he felt vulnerable.

    Same here, I reckon the the defence may (none / 0) (#52)
    by gbrbsb on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 04:43:35 PM EST
    have a problem demonstrating extreme vulnerability considering he got his gun iirc from the other side of the bed to where he was, and then crawled along the passage to precisely where he thought there was an intruder. Probably in less than the time he took he could have woken Reeva, who could called the police while he put his prosthetics on so it will be interesting to see how they play it. Curiously the prosecution have listed around 10 forensic experts but just one ballistics.

    A leaked ballistics report supports Oscar's statement that he was not wearing his prosthetic devices when he went to bathroom and fired his gun. He claims he thought there was a burglar in the bathroom and shot Reeva Steenkamp by accident.

    At the bond hearing, the prosecution claimed he was wearing his prosthetics and argued this supported its theory that he had more than enough time to check whether his girlfriend was still in bed with him.

    If the prosecution is really so lame that they can't prove something so fundamental that OP was wearing his prosthetics when he shot through the door, yet are basing their case on him wearing them, I would be simply flabbergasted.

    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#46)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 02:59:49 PM EST
    The second charge is illegal possession of 38 rounds of ammunition at his home.
    shouldn't this be:
    The second charge is illegal possession of .38 caliber ammunition at his home.

    the indictment reads (none / 0) (#53)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 06:35:45 PM EST
    he had "38 x 38 rounds" of ammunition. I think you are correct it refers to ammunition for a .38 caliber weapon. This article says:

    Prosecutors said the second charge of possession of illegal ammunition relates to a lack of proper licensing for .38 caliber bullets found at Pistorius' home. Pistorius shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9mm handgun.

    The date of the ammunition charge is 2/16 while the date of the killing is 2/14. Police didn't find the ammunition that night, but a few days later. So it's not even related to the shooting. Sounds like it's there to show he doesn't respect firearms laws -- a character attack.


    Makes sense, 38 x .38 rounds. (none / 0) (#54)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 06:50:46 PM EST
    I read that he said he was holding them for his dad, and that the law says you can't have ammo that's for a gun other than the one(s) you legally own.