Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence case postponed until the 7th April after assessor is taken ill.
The Oscar Pistorius trial was postponed yesterday after one of the assessors assisting the judge was taken ill.
The double-amputee Olympian accused of murder had been expected to be called to the witness stand to give evidence.
Judge Thokozile Masipa postponed proceedings for more than a week due to the illness of one of the legal assistants who has been sitting at her side throughout the trial in Pretoria.
The defence for the athlete will now open on 7 April. The trial has already heard 15 days of prosecution-led testimony from neighbours, forensics, specialist ballistic and evidence taken from mobile phones.
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. Prosecutors argue he intentionally shot and killed the 29-year old model following a domestic dispute.
He claims he fatally shot Steenkamp by mistake thinking she was an intruder in his home.
There are no juries at trials in South Africa and Pistorius’s fate will ultimately be decided by Judge Thokozile Masipa, assisted by two assessors.
His testimony will be crucial to his defence against the murder charge because it allows the judge to determine his credibility.
There is no trial by jury in South Africa, allowing Pistorius to try and convince Judge Masipa and her two assessors that he did not intend to kill his girlfriend, and is not guilty of murder.
However, Pistorius testifying opens him up to cross-examination by prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who will likely ask the world-famous athlete questions about why he shot four times from close range through a locked toilet door, hitting Steenkamp in the hip, right arm and head, and killing her.
Prosecutors say Pistorius argued with Steenkamp before he shot her with his 9 mm pistol.
When asked earlier if Pistorius would take the stand, defence lawyer Brian Webber said: “I don’t think we have a choice, it’s a question of when.”
If Pistorius is found guilty, he could face life imprisonment.
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp argued fiercely in the turbulent weeks before he killed her, and the athlete’s girlfriend told him she was sometimes scared by his behavior, which included jealous outbursts in front of other people, according to phone messages revealed at the Olympian’s murder trial on Monday.
“I’m scared of u sometimes and how u snap at me and of how u will react to me,” Reeva Steenkamp texted Pistorius, in a message read out in court by police Capt. Francois Moller.
In another message, Steenkamp wrote to the double-amputee runner: “I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating u AND be attacked by you, the one person I deserve protection from.”
The messages suggested both lovers were experiencing emotional insecurity, though the exchanges revealed in court reflected prosecutors’ efforts to portray Pistorius as an aggressor with a short fuse, matching earlier testimony from a former girlfriend who had said he sometimes shouted at her. In one message, the runner indicated Steenkamp had not told him the full story about smoking “weed,” or using drugs, while she defended past conduct with the declaration: “I wasn’t a stripper or a ‘ho,'” (a slang term for prostitute)
The court adjourned with Moller expected to return to the witness box on. He has not yet revealed if police recovered any phone messages or communications from the night of the killing on Feb. 14, 2013.
Moller said that from Steenkamp’s phone he obtained more than 1,000 exchanges with Pistorius on WhatsApp and other phone messaging applications. Moller said he received as evidence two BlackBerry phones, two iPhones, two iPads and a Mac computer from Pistorius’ house the day after the shooting death of Steenkamp.
The data on Steenkamp’s phone would print to more than 35,000 pages, said Moller. Of the fraction of exchanges between the couple, he said that about 90 percent were what he called normal and “loving” exchanges.
In Steenkamp’s message about being scared of the athlete, she also added: “You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together.”
She goes on to talk about Pistorius snapping at her about chewing gum and talking in an accent, and then writes: “I just want to love and be loved. Be happy and make someone SO happy. Maybe we can’t do that for each other. Cos right now I know u aren’t happy and I am certainly very unhappy and sad.”
The long message was sent after the two attended a friend’s engagement party and apparently left early because she said he got upset and jealous. As Moller read the message, Pistorius, who had been looking at a book of the compiled messages, closed his eyes. Tears fell to his lap. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and regained the composure he held through most of the day.
The runner apologized for his behavior in replies to Steenkamp’s message, according to the testimony.
Moller also read messages exchanged after a shooting incident at Tashas restaurant in Johannesburg about a month before the fatal shooting. Boxer Kevin Lerena and Darren Fresco, a onetime friend of Pistorius, testified that the Olympian asked Fresco to take the blame for a shot that went off after the loaded gun was passed to Pistorius under the table.
In the phone message exchange, the 27-year-old runner explained to 29-year-old Steenkamp: “Angel, please don’t say a thing to anyone … the guys promised not to say a thing,” he wrote. She then replied: “I have no idea what you’re talking about ;)”
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to a firearms charge related to that episode.
Earlier Monday a neighbor testified that she heard gunshots as well as screams from both a man and a woman on the night that Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp.
Anette Stipp’s testimony matched some evidence given by other witnesses who said they also heard a woman screaming around the time that Pistorius killed Steenkamp before dawn on Valentine’s Day last year. According to Pistorius, he thought Steenkamp was in bed when he fired his 9 mm pistol. He did not describe any woman screaming.
The defense has countered that neighbors actually heard Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice after he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius has said he shot his girlfriend by mistake through a locked toilet door, thinking she was an intruder in his home.
Stipp said she heard what she thought were gunshots on the night of the shooting, and then heard the “terrified, terrified” screams of a woman.
Stipp recalled looking out from a balcony at two houses with lights on in the gated estate where her family and Pistorius lived.
“There was definitely a female screaming for quite a period,” Anette Stipp said. She said she also heard a man’s voice.