Pistorius Defense Starts With Athlete Prepared to Take Stand

Oscar Pistorius’s defense starts calling witnesses in his murder trial tomorrow, paving the way for the Paralympian gold medalist to testify about 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 yesterday.

The trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, will resume after the prosecution rested its case two days ago. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, and three gun-related charges. He says he thought Steenkamp 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 do so, 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 yesterday by 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.

Culpable Homicide

Pistorius could be found guilty of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, which could carry a minimum sentence of five years, Du Toit said. He may be sentenced to as much as life imprisonment if found guilty of premeditated murder, Du Toit said.

Masipa will give a final judgment because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.

The prosecution 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 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.

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

Witness List

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.

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.

The state prosecutor “discharged his responsibility in putting the necessary facts before the court,” O’Sullivan said by phone yesterday. Nel will “invite the court to draw the necessary conclusions from the defense’s case.”

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.

(Updates with Pistorius’s right to refuse broadcast of testimony in 10th paragraph.)
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