South African athlete Oscar Pistorius’ trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp took place in the High Court of South Africa in Pretoria on March 3, 2014.
Certain facts of the case were indisputable–namely that on Feb. 14, 2013, South Africa’s “Blade Runner” shot and killed his model girlfriend in the bathroom of his Pretoria home. Following the incident, the Olympian admitted he shot the model but claimed he believed that she was an intruder.
Pistorius, an Olympic and Paralympic runner famous for his prosthetic legs, was taken into custody and charged for Steenkamp’s murder and several gun-related charges, on Feb. 15, 2013.
A bail hearing took place on Feb. 19, 2013 in front of the Chief Magistrate of Pretoria, Desmond Nair. During the hearing, both prosecution and defence stated that the celebrity had fired four shots through a locked bathroom door, which hit Steenkamp three times. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that the athlete had put on his prosthetic legs, walked across his bedroom to the bathroom, and intentionally shot Steenkamp through the locked door. During the hearing, Nel said that the time required to put on the prosthesis established the alleged murder as premeditated. Pistorius maintained that he had thought Steenkamp was in their bed sleeping and that the thought that the person in the bathroom was an intruder.
At the bail hearing, the chief investigating officer Hilton Botha said a witness had heard gunshots coming from Pistorius’ home and then heard a female scream, and then more shots.
At first, Botha claimed the witness was 2,000 ft away, but later the officer said the witness was 980 ft. away. Botha also said the gunshots’ trajectory indicated that shots had been fired downward, which conflicted with Pistorius’ statement that he was not wearing his prosthetics at the time. At the hearing, Botha did admit that that procedural mistakes were made during the crime scene investigation and that police had found no evidence inconsistent with the version of events presented by Pistorius.
Four days after the hearing, Botha was removed from the case after it was revealed that the officer was facing attempted murder charges from a 2009 incident.
Pistorius was formally indicted on charges of murder and the illegal possession of ammunition on Aug. 19, 2013. The indictment maintained that even if Pistorious had mistaken Steenkamp’s identity, he did intend to shoot and kill whomever he believed to be in the bathroom.
On Feb. 25, 2014, Pretoria’s High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo ruled in in Pretoria that the entirety of the high-profile trial could be broadcast live via audio and additionally, that portions of the trial, namely the opening and closing arguments, the testimonies of consenting state witnesses, the judgement and the sentencing, could be broadcast live via television.
On Sept. 12, 2014, Judge Thokozile Masipa delivered a verdict that Pistorius was not guilty of murder, but guilty of the culpable homicide of Steenkamp and reckless endangerment with a firearm at a restaurant. In South Africa, culpable homicide is defined as the negligent unlawful killing of another human being, similar to the English and U.S.’ term of manslaughter.
On Oct. 21, 2014, Pistorius received a prison sentence of a maximum of five years for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for the unrelated and separate reckless endangerment conviction. However, in Dec. 2015, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the culpable homicide ruling and the Blade Runner’s conviction was upgraded to murder. One year later, on Jul 6, 2016, Judge Masipa sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison for murder. The state appealed for a longer prison sentence and the Supreme Court of Appeal doubled Pistorius’s six-year prison term to 13 years and five months.
Pistorius’ legal team also attempted to take the murder ruling to the constitutional court, but the court refused. His legal team and state prosecutors also battled courts over the 13-year term. However, in April 2018, The Guardian reported that South Africa’s highest court rejected Oscar Pistorius’s request to appeal against his 13-year jail term.
In April 2018, National prosecuting authority spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku told Agence France-Presse, “This is the end of the road. There are no other legal options available.”
The Steenkamp’s family lawyer Tania Koen told the publication that Reeva’s parents had “always had faith in the justice system.”