Oscar Pistorius will face the grimmest challenge of his life when he goes on trial in front of the world today for the alleged premeditated murder of his girlfriend.
Journalists from all corners of the world will descend on the North Gauteng High Court where Pistorius will be asked to plead on a charge of murdering his girlfriend, law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
He also faces two charges of unlawfully discharging a firearm in a public place and the unlawful possession of ammunition.
Lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel was in court GD on Friday when technicians installed remote controlled television cameras and microphones in terms of a ground breaking ruling allowing live coverage of most of the trial, with the exception of the evidence of Pistorius and his witnesses.
Although he confirmed that the trial will run until its conclusion, he remained tight-lipped about who the first State witness will be.
However, it is expected that the State will kick off the trial by setting the scene of the shooting.
Pistorius’s trial differs from most other domestic violence trials in that he has already admitted firing the shots which killed his girlfriend, but claimed he had fired four shots through a locked bathroom door in a state of terror because he thought there was an intruder in the house.
The State alleges Pistorius deliberately shot Steenkamp after an argument overheard by neighbours and then told security officers at his estate he was “fine”.
Legal experts agree that even if the court accepts Pistorius’s version that it was a tragic accident, he will have a tough time explaining why four shots had been necessary to defend himself in circumstances in which there was no direct or imminent threat against him.
He will also have to prove that his fear was genuine and that a reasonable person would have acted in the same way under the circumstances.
Prominent criminal attorney Llewellyn Curlewis believes Pistorius’s case will rest on his own evidence and how he fares under cross-examination, because only he can tell the court what happened. Both Curlewis and experienced criminal defender Advocate Johann Engelbrecht SC pointed out that South African law was quite clear: one could not use more violence than necessary to defend oneself and that you had to use every other possible measure rather than to shoot.
Constitutional Law expert Pierre de Vos said in his blog Constitutionally Speaking it would be difficult for Pistorius to escape a murder conviction unless he was found to have acted in putative self-defence – in legal terms, the honest but mistaken belief that his life was in danger.
Wits law lecturer and attorney Prof Steven Tuson said the only issue that had to be determined was what Pistorius’s state of mind and intention had been at the time.
“What was he thinking when he pulled the trigger? That will determine his innocence or guilt,” he said.
Forensic science expert Dr David Klatzow said if the State could prove that Pistorius was trigger-happy and had anger-management problems it could go to the level and type of criminal intent that was applicable in the case.
He predicted there would be “some real gunslinging” between experts in the trial, as both sides were relying on their own teams of specialists – from pathologists to ballistic and blood splatter experts.
Pistorius also employed American forensic animation firm The Evidence Room to recreate the crime scene using computer animation.