Crying, vomiting, emotion infuse Pistorius trial

September 10, 2014

Oscar Pistorius‘ murder trial has spanned five months, prolonged by several interruptions including a month long break so the paralympian sprinter could be examined by a team of mental health experts.

And Judge Thokozile Masipa has spent the last five weeks determining and writing her verdict, which will be revealed later this week.

Pistorius, once the poster boy of the London 2012 Olympics after becoming the first disabled athlete to compete against able bodied competitors, is now known for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp early in the morning on Valentine’s Day last year.

The trial, which started on March 3, has been emotional, dramatic and at times graphic, and Pistorius’ reactions have ranged from crying and vomiting in the courtroom to fingering rosary beads and reading religious tracts during testimony.

The trial ended Friday and Judge Thokozile Masipa, along with two assistants, will determine whether Pistorius is guilty or innocent. The judge is considering several charges ranging from premeditated murder to illegal possession of ammunition. If convicted of the most serious charge of premeditated murder, Masipa could sentence Pistorius to at least 25 years in prison.

See the full list of charges Pistorius faces and the possible penalties if found guilty.

Masipa has the discretion to order that any or all of the sentences should run concurrently or separately. In a worst case scenario, Pistorius could spend up to 40 years in prison, but this would be highly unusual as sentences ordinarily run concurrently, which would translate into Pistorius being sentenced to an effective 25 years behind bars.

She could also find him guilty, but impose a lesser sentence because of personal circumstances. Or find him not guilty.

Here are highlights from the marathon trial:

  • The trial began with an emotional jolt as the first witness, Michelle Burger, broke down and cried as she testified about the blood curdling screams she said she heard in the pre-dawn hours on the day Steenkamp was killed. “Bang… (Pause) bang, bang, bang,” she remembered hearing shortly after the screams.


  • Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux told the court that he would call a sound expert to testify that Pistorius “screams like a woman when he is anxious or agitated” and that what neighbors thought were gunshots were in fact Pistorius striking the bathroom door with a cricket bat when he broke it down to get to Steenkamp after realizing he had shot her. This evidence was never brought, yet “Pistorius screams like a woman” became one of the most enduring and memorable phrases of the trial.


  • Apparent police bungling and possible theft was highlighted when the court heard that two of Pistorius’ expensive watches disappeared while police were in his house after the shooting. Former Boschkop Police Station commander, colonel Schoombie Van Rensburg, who was among the first on the scene after the shooting, testified that experts examined a blood-spattered box containing eight wristwatches, worth an estimated 50,000-100,000 rand ($4,675 – $9,350), and that one vanished even after he warned his officers against theft. Roux told Van Rensburg that a second watch was also stolen, but the former commander said he knew nothing of a second theft.


  • Pistorius vomited, cried and squirmed in the dock as state pathologist Professor Gert Saayman testified about Steenkamp’s wounds and her stomach contents. The retching and vomiting continued as police ballistics expert, Capt. Christiaan Mangena, testified about the sequence of shots, where Steenkamp was standing on his reconstruction and about the effect of the Ranger or Black Talon ammunition Pistorius used – hollow point bullets that open up on impact.


  • Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, told the court that Pistorius often shouted at her and other people and did not sound like a woman when he yelled.


  • Pistorius testified in his own defense and started his evidence with a tearful apology to June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, but was tenderly asked by the judge to speak louder.

“I’d like to apologize and say that there’s not a moment and there hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family. 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,” Pistorius said. “I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.”


  • Pistorius, a double leg amputee, removed his prosthetics several times to demonstrate his instability and his reach without his prosthetics.


  • Prosecutor Gerrie Nel confronted Pistorius with a close up of Steenkamp’s bloodied head wound. “Say it! Say you killed Reeva Steenkamp!” he barked at Pistorius, causing another emotional outburst from the athlete.


  • Defense witness Dr. Merryll Vorster testified that she had diagnosed Pistorius with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which may have had an impact on the night he shot Steenkamp. Her claim led to a month-long psychological evaluation of Pistorius that concluded that he had no mental disorder.

 Related video: Video of Oscar Pistorius Re-Enacting the Night of the Slaying Leaked

  • Crime & Justice
  • Society & Culture
  • Thokozile Masipa
  • Reeva Steenkamp

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