Pistorius Ready to Take Stand as Defense Starts in Murder Trial

Photographer: Themba Hadebe/AP Photo

Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, on March 25, 2014. Close

Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, on March 25, 2014.

Photographer: Themba Hadebe/AP Photo

Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, on March 25, 2014.

Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius may take the stand today at his murder trial to explain why he killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

“Of course, he is likely to testify,” Brian Webber, a lawyer on Pistorius’s legal team at Ramsey Webber Inc. in Johannesburg, said by phone. He didn’t say when the athlete would give evidence.

The prosecution rested its case at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, on March 25. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, and three gun-related charges. He says he thought she was an intruder when he shot her through a locked toilet cubicle door in his bathroom.

South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act requires that the accused who chooses to take the stand do so at the beginning of the defense’s case unless the court finds a compelling reason not to, Marius du Toit, a criminal defense lawyer in Pretoria who served as a magistrate in South Africa’s North West and Northern Cape provinces, said in a March 26 e-mail.

“Oscar’s testimony will be crucial,” Du Toit said. “There aren’t many holes in the prosecution’s case.”

Pistorius may go to jail even if judge Thokozile Masipa believes the Paralympian’s version of the events that led to Steenkamp’s death, Du Toit said by phone.

Pistorius may be found guilty of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, which could carry a minimum sentence of five years, Du Toit said. Conviction on the charge of premeditated murder may get Pistorius life imprisonment, he said.

Final Judgment

Masipa will give a final judgment because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. The trial will run until April 4, with a recess from April 7-11, and then resume April 14 to May 16, the Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court said March 23 in e-mailed statement.

The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Pistorius may request that his court room testimony not be aired. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($94,000) bail since February last year.

Neighbors of Pistorius in the Silver Woods Country Estate gated community where he lived in Pretoria have testified that they heard a woman’s screams and gunshots shortly after 3 a.m. local time.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux asked to consult for the past two days with some witnesses who were on the prosecution’s witness list but weren’t called to testify. The list includes Pistorius’s uncle, Arnold, his brother Carl and sister Aimee.

‘Necessary Conclusions’

Paul O’Sullivan, a private forensic investigator in Johannesburg, said the state will continue to make “80 percent” of its case when the defense calls witnesses.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel “discharged his responsibility in putting the necessary facts before the court,” O’Sullivan said by phone two days ago. Nel will “invite the court to draw the necessary conclusions from the defense’s case.”

Nel has sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed and reckless with weapons and having a quick temper. Witnesses testified how he shot through the sunroof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant.

The athlete ordered six firearms, including a Smith & Wesson (SWHC) 500 revolver and a semi-automatic rifle, Sean Rens, a firearms trainer, told the trial on March 17. The order was canceled about a month after he shot Steenkamp, Rens said.

Nel led a successful trial against a former President of Interpol and head of the South African Police Service, Jackie Selebi, who was found guilty in 2010 on charges of graft.

Hollow-Point Bullet

Steenkamp was standing when the first hollow-point bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in testimony on March 19. She was struck by two more bullets from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said.

Mangena said that since the first bullet caused Steenkamp to fall from a standing position, it was probable that there was a delay after the initial shot before the final three were fired. The position of her arms showed Steenkamp may have been trying to shield herself after the first shot was fired, he said.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE) and Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley.

Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufactures the blades used by Pistorius, said it may resume ties with the athlete if he’s acquitted of murder charges after announcing it had ended relations, Sveinn Solvason, Ossur’s chief financial officer, said by phone March 17.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andre Janse van Vuuren in Johannesburg at ajansevanvuu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gordon Bell at gbell16@bloomberg.net Karl Maier

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