It's the first day of the defence's case in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. The benches are packed with members of the public today, in anticipation of the possibility that Pistorius himself may give testimony today - though this is not a given. Before any of that, though, we'll probably be hearing from media lawyers as to whether the athlete's testimony can be shown on camera. REBECCA DAVIS is in the North Gauteng High Court to bring you updates.
09.00 There’s a buzz in the courtroom that we haven’t heard for a while, and journalists’ positions near the front of the courtroom are more than usually in demand today. The question on everyone’s lips: Will he or won’t he? Will the defence’s first move be to put Oscar Pistorius on the stand? As we’ve previously suggested, they have little choice but to do so, since the accused’s state of mind is central to a claim of putative private defence – and the best way for the judge to gauge Pistorius’s state of mind on the evening in question is for him to tell her.
The expectation is that if Pistorius is to testify, he will testify first. This is normally the case in South African trials, though it’s not a “rule” as such. If he doesn’t testify first, though, the defence opens itself up to the accusation from the prosecution that Pistorius has tailored his testimony to what other defence witnesses have testified.
Judging by the presence of media lawyers in the courtroom, they’re waiting to argue that IF Pistorius is called to the stand, his testimony should be allowed to be broadcast on camera. This is not what Judge Dunstan Mlambo ruled was possible in his court order governing media coverage of the trial, so it’s unclear what their chances of success will be.
There’s a big turnout of Steenkamp supporters in court today, including Trish Taylor, the mother of Oscar Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend Sam Taylor – known to be not a huge Pistorius fan. Pistorius’s brother Carl is also on the benches today, for the first time in a while. If Pistorius does testify today, there’s an awful lot at stake.
10.00 And, er, that’s it. More of a whimper than a bang.
We were in session in court for less than five minutes in the end. Judge Thokozile Masipa arrived to inform us that one of her assessors, Janet Henzen-du Toit, has fallen ill. Court cannot be properly constituted without all three figures – Masipa and the two assessors – present, so Masipa had no choice but to adjourn.
And we won’t be picking up again on Monday, either. We’ll only be back in session on Monday, April 7th. Truly, this case may drag on forever. Spare a thought (if you’re charitably inclined) for journalists for some prominent North American publications who had flown to Pretoria specifically in the expectation of seeing Pistorius testify today.
The new date will now clash with Shrien Dewani’s first court appearance, assuming his extradition goes ahead as planned. It’ll be interesting to see how some foreign correspondents manage the need to be in two cities at once.
One point we can now clarify: media lawyer Dario Milo tweeted that contrary to journalists’ impressions, media lawyers were not, in fact, in court this morning to push for TV broadcast of Pistorius’s testimony. So we retract earlier assertions to that effect.
It’ll be a week without Daily Maverick court updates from the Pistorius, trial, then, and normal service resuming. We’re pretty sure you’ll survive.
Photo: Oscar Pistorius (L) is seen talking to his defence team leader, Barry Roux, during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, South Africa, 19 March 2014. Pistorius is accused of the murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. EPA/THEMBA HADEBE / POOL
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