More than 18 months after athlete Oscar Pistorius shot dead his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury home, the ‘Blade Runner’ will learn his fate today as a judge delivers her verdict in one of the most closely followed trials of recent times.
The courtroom in Pretoria will convene for the final time to see the culmination of a case that heard from scores of witnesses and captivated a global audience with dramatic scenes.
In deciding her verdict, Judge Thokozile Masipa will have to weigh Pistorius’s claim that he shot Ms Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder and the prosecution’s allegation that the runner intentionally murdered her after a row.
She will determine the defendant’s fate alone as South Africa does not have trial by jury
If found guilty of premeditated murder, the 27-year-old double amputee faces 25 years to life in prison, while he could be convicted of a lesser murder charge or negligent killing. He is also charged with three firearms counts. In one night Pistorius was transformed from a global sporting icon to murder suspect. A little more than six months before the shooting, he made history at London 2012 by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympic Games.
Then in the early hours of February 14, 2013, the athlete – who had his lower legs amputated as a baby – fired his 9mm pistol through a closed toilet door at his home in Pretoria. Ms Steenkamp, 29, suffered fatal injuries after she was hit in the head, arm and hip.
It was a tragic end to a budding romance that saw the pair labelled the Posh and Becks of South Africa after they started dating three months earlier.
Interest in the subsequent case was intense, and a ruling that parts of the trial could be broadcast live on television added to the scrutiny.
It opened in March with a witness describing how she heard “bloodcurdling screams” on the night of the shooting.
Michelle Burger, who lived on a complex close to the Silverwoods Estate gated community where Pistorius’s home was located, said she was woken by the screams. “It leaves you cold,” she told the court.
Pistorius put the house up for sale to help cover his legal bills, and his lawyer said he “cannot contemplate ever returning to live there again”.
The prosecution, led by Gerrie Nel – nicknamed The Bulldog for his courtroom tenacity – sought to depict the star as having a short fuse and being obsessed with guns, calling a former girlfriend who told the trial that the defendant once shot his gun out of the sunroof of a car.
His defence team, headed by Barry Roux, presented a case that portrayed him as anxious about crime and claimed evidence at the crime scene was mishandled.
Pistorius’s reactions as the case against him was set out ranged from crying during evidence about texts they exchanged and vomiting at a description of her injuries to calmly taking notes and talking to his lawyers. The case involved physical as well as oral evidence, with one forensic analyst demonstrating in court how Pistorius may have hit the toilet door with a cricket bat.
A key element of the case was the time of Ms Steenkamp’s final meal.
Pistorius said they ate at around 7pm on the night she was killed, and went to bed at around 10pm before the shooting in the early hours of the morning. But the prosecution alleged that a finding that she still had food in her stomach after she was killed contradicted that story.
Both sides used texts sent by the couple to support their case. In one read out by police captain Francois Moller, Ms Steenkamp said: “I’m scared of u sometimes and how u snap at me and of how u will react to me.”
But the defence claimed such messages were only a fraction of the total taken from the couple’s mobile phones by police, and produced others in which they were affectionate.
For example, in January Steenkamp sent Pistorius a photo of herself in a hoodie with the message: “You like it?”
He replied: “I love it.”
The trial’s tensest and most dramatic moments came in several days of highly charged testimony from Pistorius.
His voice thick with emotion, the athlete began his evidence by saying sorry to Ms Steenkamp’s family.
Watched by the model’s mother June, he said: “I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.”
Mrs Steenkamp later told Hello! Magazine she has forgiven him. “I don’t hate Oscar,” she said.
Pistorius went on to describe how he had suffered from nightmares and sleeplessness following the incident, while also recounting the impact on him of previous instances of crime.
Later in his testimony, the court had to adjourn as Pistorius broke down sobbing and howling while describing the aftermath of the shooting.”I sat over Reeva and I cried,” he said.
Pistorius was on the stand for five days of intense cross-examination from Mr Nel. At one point he refused to look at a photograph of Ms Steenkamp’s wounds as the prosecutor urged him to “take responsibility”.
In June, after the trial was halted for a month, experts concluded that Pistorius was not suffering from mental illness at the time of the shooting.
The following month the star’s spokeswoman confirmed he got into a row about the trial while out in a nightclub, while in August his older brother Carl Pistorius was left in intensive care after a car crash.
In a tweet on August 8, Oscar Pistorius wrote: “Thank you to my loved ones and those that have been there for me, who have picked me up and helped me through everything.”