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Oscar Pistorius trial gets underwayPublish Date: Mar 03, 2014
Oscar Pistorius trial gets underway
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Oscar Pistorius arrives in court ahead of his murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa on Monday. Photo/Reuters
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OSCAR Pistorius entered a not guilty plea in a South Africa courtroom at the start of his murder trial for the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year.

Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, thinking she was an intruder inside his bathroom.

The double-amputee Olympic athlete arrived in the courtroom at the high court in Pretoria wearing a dark grey suit and black tie. He sat and drank from a bottle of water.

Steenkamp's mother, June, earlier entered the court dressed in black.

 

Steenkamp was quoted in the Pretoria News, publishing an interview she gave to a British newspaper, saying that she will attend the trial to see Pistorius.

"I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva," said Steenkamp, 67. "Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him ... 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."

Steenkamp will be seated near Pistorius's family, according to local media, so there is a possibility that their eyes will meet.

2 more gun charges expected on Monday

The start of the trial marks the start of a dramatic new chapter in the life of the double-amputee athlete who ran at the Olympics and became a global star before he shot his girlfriend to death.

Prosecutors charged the 27-year-old Pistorius with murder in Steenkamp's death and say it was with premeditation. They say they will seek a life sentence if Pistorius is convicted, the sternest punishment available in South Africa. South Africa no longer has the death penalty.

If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa. He would be older than 50 before he could be released.

The state says Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp at his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year by shooting her through a toilet door after an argument. Pistorius denies murder and says he killed his girlfriend by mistake when he fired four times through the door thinking there was a dangerous nighttime intruder on the other side.

A lesser sentence is possible if Pistorius is found guilty of murder but without premeditation. He also could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa's version of manslaughter in which someone is killed through negligence.

Pistorius claims he was acting in self-defence against what he believed at the time was a threat to his life.

As well as murder, Pistorius faces a second charge of illegal possession of ammunition for bullets found at his Pretoria house that he allegedly didn't have proper licensing for. Prosecutors say he also will be indicted Monday with two more gun charges relating to him allegedly shooting in public on two separate occasions before Steenkamp's killing.

The serving of an updated indictment to Pistorius in court is expected to be the first move at the trial at Pretoria's high court. He has not yet been formally served with the papers that include all four charges against him, although his lawyers have had the papers and details of the additional gun charges since last year, prosecutors say. The gun charges reportedly relate to him allegedly shooting out the sunroof of a car in one incident and another when he allegedly fired a gun inside a restaurant, apparently by mistake.

Those incidents happened in the court jurisdiction of the city of Johannesburg, not where Steenkamp was killed in Pretoria, and prosecutors applied to have the two charges included and heard at his murder trial.

Trial by judge, not jury

Female judge Thokozile Masipa will ultimately pronounce the champion runner innocent or guilty and will decide on any sentence. South Africa has no trial by jury.

Parts of the trial will be broadcast on live television, both in South Africa and across the world, and hundreds of reporters are expected to descend on North Gauteng High Court in the South African capital for the start of the trial. The 24-hour cable channel devoted solely to the trial will continue until the case is finished.

The trial will deal with the bloody killing of a 29-year-old model and law graduate, but also the issue of gun ownership and South Africa's problem of violent crime, which Pistorius says was the reason why he kept his licensed 9 mm handgun under his bed. Pistorius says his fear of crime was why he fired four shots through the door, hitting Steenkamp three times — in the head, elbow and hip.

Prosecutors maintain he was simply angry with her after an argument.

Members of Pistorius's family will likely attend the trial, as they did on his previous court hearings. His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, sister Aimee and brother Carl are all also listed as state witnesses.

"We love Oscar, and believe in him, and will be standing by him throughout the coming trial," Arnold Pistorius said in a statement over the weekend.

Steenkamp's mother confirmed that she and other family members said will also be in the courtroom. The Steenkamps did not attend any of Pistorius's previous court appearances.

"All we are looking for is closure and to know that our daughter did not suffer on that tragic Valentine's Day," said Steenkamp's parents said in a statement last month, days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting that stunned South Africa.

Reuters

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