Africa

Oscar Pistorius trial: 10 key moments

L: Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa C: June Steenkamp in court in Pretoria (top), prosecutor Gerrie Nel in court in Pretoria (2nd from top), defence lawyer Barry Roux (2nd from bottom) in court in Pretoria, Aimee Pistorius crying in court (bottom) R: Reeva Steenkamp pictured in January 2013 Image copyright Getty Images

Athlete Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day in 2013.

He was initially cleared of murder, with the judge at his trial in Pretoria accepting his defence that he thought there was an intruder.

The South African has now been convicted of murder, after the appeals court overturned the earlier verdict.

Here are 10 key moments from his 2014 trial, which was closely followed in South Africa and across the world:


1) Apology

Oscar Pistorius took the stand on 7 April 2014 and began with an emotional apology: "I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Mrs and Mr Steenkamp, to Reeva's family, to those of you who knew her who are here today… there hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family.

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Media captionOscar Pistorius' apology

"I wake up every morning and you're the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can't imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I've caused you and your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved." Ms Steenkamp's mother, June, watched stony-faced as he spoke.

Emotional Oscar Pistorius apologises


2) Vomiting

When a graphic photo of Ms Steenkamp's head wound was displayed on screens in the court without warning on 10 March, Pistorius retched repeatedly into a bucket. From then on, broadcasters such as the BBC carried a stream from the court with a delay.

Image copyright Getty Images

Pathologist Gert Saayman described how Ms Steenkamp was shot three times, in the head, pelvis and arm. "Black talon" ammunition - bullets that open up into a petal-like shape on impact "designed to cause maximum damage" were used, he said.

Pistorius sick as post-mortem read


3) 'Zombie stopper' footage

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Media captionThe court was shown a news report showing Pistorius at a shooting range

The prosecution played a video clip on 9 April showing Pistorius shooting at a watermelon and remarking "it's not as soft as brains… but it's a zombie stopper". Prosecutor Gerrie Nel then asked the athlete: "Did you see what happened to the watermelon? It exploded, that's what happened to Reeva's head. It had the same effect into her head. Take responsibility, Mr Pistorius."

He then showed the court a photograph of Ms Steenkamp's head injuries. Pistorius refused to look at it, saying in tears: "I won't look at the picture and be tormented. As I picked up Reeva, my hand touched her head. I remember. I was there. I don't have to look at a picture. I was there."


4) WhatsApp row

During testimony on 24 March, a police captain read out a text message sent by Ms Steenkamp to Pistorius weeks before she was shot. "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you will react to me," she said.

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Media captionCapt Francois Moller read a message to the court

The couple had argued after Pistorius had accused her of flirting with another man. It was revealed their pet names for each other were "Angel" and "Baba". Capt Francois Moller said that 90% of the messages between them had been loving.

Image copyright AFP

Pistorius 'scared' his girlfriend


5) Valentine's Day card

After five days of cross-examination, Oscar Pistorius ended his testimony on 15 April. His lawyer asked him to read the Valentine's Day card Reeva Steenkamp had written to him.

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Media captionOscar Pistorius reads out the message in his Valentine's card

"I think today is a good day to tell you that, I love you," she had written. The model was shot dead in the early hours of Valentine's Day, 2013 - before they had opened each other's cards and gifts. Earlier, Pistorius denied prosecution allegations that they had been arguing before the shooting. He said he had bought her a bracelet and they had been due to go the jewellers' to collect it that day.

Pistorius trial sees Valentine card


6) Cricket bat vs gunshots

On 16 April, the court heard recordings of a cricket bat striking a door and gunshots fired through the door as the defence sought to prove the sounds were similar and so could be confused from a distance.

A prosecution witnesses had testified to hearing a woman's "blood-curdling" scream followed by gunshots. The defence says those bangs were the sound of the cricket bat and the high-pitched screaming came from Pistorius followed by his shouts of "help, help, help" after he realised he had shot Ms Steenkamp by mistake and before he put on his prosthetics to knock down the toilet door with the bat. Earlier, a police forensic detective alleged the athlete was on his stumps when he used the bat.


7) Prosthetics removed

On his second day on the stand on 8 April, Pistorius' lawyer asked the athlete to demonstrate his height without his prosthetic legs. When he stood next to the toilet door, which was in the courtroom, his head came to a few centimetres above the door handle.

Image copyright Getty Images

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Pretoria said his confident demeanour changed - on his stumps he seemed self-conscious. The defence argues he has heightened response to perceived danger because of his disability.

Gasps of shock and visceral howls


8) Psychiatric tests ordered

Image copyright Getty Images

Defence forensic psychologist Merryll Vorster told the court on 11 May that Pistorius had suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder since childhood - pointing to the amputation of his legs when just 11 months old, the divorce of his parents when he was six and the death of his mother at 15.

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Media captionMerryll Vorster on Oscar Pistorius' mental state

The prosecution then requested he undergo mental observation and the judge ordered a month-long evaluation. A panel of four doctors concluded that he did not suffer from a mental disorder and that he knew right from wrong.


9) 'Snowball of lies'

In his closing prosecution arguments on 7 August, Mr Nel accused Oscar Pistorius of being a "deceitful witness" who had told a "snowball of lies". He listed a "baker's dozen" of inconsistencies, which defence lawyer Barry Roux hit back at in his concluding remarks the next day.

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Media captionGerrie Nel: "It's just so improbable, it can never be reasonably possibly true"

Mr Nel said the athlete's three lines of defence - that he had fired either by mistake, in a state of panic or in self-defence against a perceived intruder - "could never be reconciled".

Pistorius told 'snowball of lies'


10) Verdict

Image copyright AP

In her ruling on 12 September 2014 Judge Thokozile Masipa found that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius had intended to kill Ms Steenkamp, so she acquitted him of murder - a verdict with which many South Africans, including legal experts, disagreed.

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Media captionOscar Pistorius stood as the verdicts were read out by the judge

Instead, she found him guilty of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, because he had used "excessive force" and been "negligent" by firing four shots at a toilet door, knowing there was someone behind it.

He was sentenced to five years in prison.

After serving just over a year in a maximum security jail in Pretoria, he was released in October 2015 to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

On 3 December 2015, South Africa's Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein overruled Judge Masipa and convicted Pistorius of murder.

He will now have to return to court to be sentenced again, and is likely to return to prison.


INTERACTIVE
  • ×

  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

    ×

    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

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