For the first time since Valentine’s Day, the public has received a chance to hear Oscar Pistorius’s account of what happened in the early hours of that morning, via an affidavit read on his behalf at his bail hearing on Tuesday. Pistorius sobbed continuously while the court heard his claim that he believed Steenkamp was a robber. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Oscar Pistorius cried so hard during the reading of his affidavit in court today that Magistrate Desmond Nair said at one point that he would have to halt proceedings in the interests of basic human decency. With his brother Carl attempting to comfort Pistorius from a seat behind, the athlete nonetheless seemed utterly overwhelmed by the emotional testimony being presented to the court.
There was a lot hanging on his affidavit, since Nair had determined just previously that Pistorius should be charged with a Schedule 6 offence – premeditated murder – due to the fact that he could not rule out “an element of planning” in the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp. Those accused of a Schedule 6 offence find it considerably more difficult to be granted bail. If Pistorius is denied bail, he could face a delay of months or even years in jail before his case comes to court, though the BBC’s Andrew Harding reported earlier on Tuesday that the state prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, had told him that they would be pushing for a trial within a year.
Part of Pistorius’s legal team’s intention with his affidavit, then, was to make the case that Pistorius was not a flight risk if granted bail. The preamble to Pistorius’s affidavit stated that he had no intention to flee the country he loves. Detailing his assets, it noted that he has property valued at around R7 million, he earns R5,6 million a year and has cash investments of a further R1 million. He has never been convicted of a previous crime, it also specified.
Pistorius says that he and Steenkamp were very much in love. On the evening of 13 February, he says the two ate a quiet dinner at home. By 10pm Pistorius was in bed watching TV, while Steenkamp did yoga in the room. Crucially, Pistorius was not wearing his legs. Steenkamp had apparently bought Pistorius a Valentine’s Day present but asked him not to open it until the following day.
The affidavit testifies to Pistorius’s deep fear of crime – he claimed that he had previously received death threats. As such, he kept a 9mm gun under his bed. Pistorius claims that in the early hours of 14 February he awoke to close the sliding door to the balcony and fetch a fan. While doing so, he heard a noise in the bathroom which provoked a sense of terror in him, exacerbated by the fact that he was not wearing his legs. He was only moving on his stumps, which afford limited mobility.
A scared Pistorius did not switch on the light. He fetched his gun and moved towards the bathroom, screaming at the intruder and calling to Reeva to call the police. He then fired shots through the bathroom door. Returning to the bed, he realized Reeva was not there and suddenly realised she might be in the bathroom. He put on his legs, bashed down the bathroom door, and carried her downstairs still breathing. “With the benefit of hindsight I realise that Reeva went to the bathroom when I went to close the balcony door”, he asserted. Thereafter, he called Netcare and the estate manager.
Pistorius said he was “mortified” by the events, and that he was not “disposed to violence”. As an international sports star, he said he would not evade his trial: he didn’t know any witnesses and would not interfere with them. He also offered to surrender his passport.
Following the completion of his testimony, advocate Barry Roux read statements from two close friends of Pistorius and one close friend of Steenkamp. All three testified to the closeness of the relationship between Steenkamp and Pistorius and how happy the two seemed together, although Steenkamp’s best friend Sam Greyvenstein did note that Reeva found him “intense”. Pistorius’s friend Justin Divaris said that Pistorius had mentioned that he could see himself marrying Steenkamp; Greyvenstein said that Steenkamp had said the same. This prompted renewed crying from Pistorius.
That concluded the defence’s evidence for Pistorius’s bail, although they requested the option to lead more evidence after the state’s response. In turn, state prosecutor Nel said that he would be calling investigating officer Hilton Botha to respond to Pistorius’s version of events, but that he needed time to consult. The case was postponed until Wednesday.
South Africans have been accused of giving Pistorius a “trial by media” and, perhaps particularly, a “trial by social media”. Following reports of the athlete’s affidavit testimony, many appeared to be unconvinced, with people querying how Pistorius could have returned to bed to fetch his gun without noticing Steenkamp was missing; how Steenkamp could have remained silent throughout; and even whether it was plausible that Steenkamp would have locked the door to use the toilet at 3am.
Others, however, felt that Pistorius’s account sounded both plausible and deeply upsetting. The BBC’s Harding reported on Twitter that a journalist sitting next to him had commented: “It just sounds true”. In general, though, the South African public appeared to respond to the day’s evidence in accordance with whatever they had made up their minds about beforehand: Pistorius the murderer, or Pistorius the victim of a tragic accident. Perhaps it’s a good thing, as many have commented lately, that we don’t have a jury system. Instead, the burden of deciding whose version of the events of 14 February is accurate – either Pistorius’s or the state’s – falls to Magistrate Desmond Nair. It’s not a task many would envy him. DM
Photo: “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius awaits the start of court proceedings in the Pretoria Magistrates court February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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