Friday, March 28, 2014

Oscar Pistorius trial: Defence case postponed

Oscar Pistorius leaves the court in Pretoria, South Africa, after his trial was postponed. Photograph: Werner Beukes/EPA
The cameras were rolling, the public gallery was full and Oscar Pistorius was bracing himself for the biggest moment of his blockbuster trial. Then came the mother of all anticlimaxes.
"One of my assessors is not well, so this court is not properly constituted," said the judge, Thokozile Masipa, on Friday. "I suggest that we postpone this matter until 7 April."
Masipa has two assessors – Janet Henzen-Du Toit, who has been taken ill, and Themba Mazibuko – who sit on either side of her in the courtroom at all times and will help her arrive at a final verdict. She has occasionally consulted them during proceedings but
they have not spoken publicly. Assessors are typically magistrates or retired magistrates; the jury system was abolished in South Africa in the 1960s.
The prosecutor Gerrie Nel and defence counsel Barry Roux agreed to the postponement, saying they would make arrangements to resume on 7 April in what had originally been planned as a week in recess.
The decision marked an abrupt end to days of media hype, with Pistorius about to take the witness stand and testify about the fatal shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. If this had gone ahead, TV viewers would not have been able to see 27-year-old's face but would have heard him speak.
The disappointment was evident among the Paralympian's family, who had turned out in force to hear him. "He was all geared up," one said.
The defence was due to begin its case on Friday after 15 days of prosecution-led testimony. Several neighbours testified to hearing a woman's terrified screams before gunshots, challenging Pistorius's claim that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the toilet cubicle in the middle of the night.
The trial has fascinating South Africa and people around the world who saw Pistorius – dubbed the "blade runner" because of his prosthetic limbs – as a symbol of triumph against the odds.
His lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve celebrity as the "fastest man on no legs", winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics. He became the first amputee runner at an Olympics when he reached the 400m semi-finals in London in 2012.
The case was originally scheduled to run for three weeks until last Friday, but is now expected to go on until at least mid-May.

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