14 March 2014

South Africa: Pistorius Trial Week 2 Features Blood, Tears

Pretoria — The second week of Oscar Pistorius' murder trial has been one of blood and tears, with riveting testimony and gruesome crime scene photos that drew strong reactions from the famous athlete. The trial has riveted South Africa, and many ordinary citizens have expressed strong opinions. As the trial goes into its third week, there is no sign it will end soon.

Day 10 of the Olympic athlete's murder trial started in a dramatic fashion, with graphic photos of Pistorius that were taken by police shortly after they arrived at his home to find he had shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the wee hours of Valentine's Day, 2013.

Photos of a red-eyed Pistorius, naked from the waist up and splattered with Steenkamp's blood, were a stark contrast to the suit-clad man who sat in the packed courtroom and averted his eyes from the screens showing his image.

Just two weeks into what is sure to be a marathon trial, the court proceedings have had all of the elements of an epic drama.

Pistorius, a sprinter, shot to fame by becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, in 2012. Steenkamp, his girlfriend of three months, was on a rising trajectory as a model and TV personality.

Then came that Valentine's morning when Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and shot four times through a locked bathroom door, killing her. The prosecution argued that he shot with intent to kill.

Earlier this week, Pistoris retched and vomited in court while listening to graphic testimony about Steenkamp's injuries.

This case has also seen testimony from former police Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg that a policeman on the scene may have pilfered one of the athlete's pricey watches just after the fatal shooting.

He also said that an investigator initially handled the weapon without gloves on. Van Rensburg resigned from the force last year, allegedly under pressure over the bungling of the crime scene.

It's those unexpected twists that helped keep the public gallery full of ordinary South Africans, who squeezed into the hard court pews along with the world's press.

Zah Masuku, 43, said she views the trial was an education. That's why she traveled for about an hour from Johannesburg to sit in court on Friday.

"I'm interested in forensics. I'm a forensics analyst student, doing my second year. Beside that, I'm interested because it's a big case that everyone is interested in, and it's my first time in court. I wanted to feel the experience. ... I'm not getting tired, and by the look of things, and the social media and the conversations, I don't think people are getting tired or are going to be tired anytime soon," she said.

Another Oscar-watcher was self-described housewife Sonya St. Clair, 42. She said that two weeks in, she's still as interested as ever.

"Wherever you go, people are talking about it. You go for dinner, everyone's talking about it. It's big news," she said.

The case is the first criminal trial to be broadcast live in South Africa -- offering citizens a rare glimpse into the workings of their justice system. That has led to a veritable social media explosion in South Africa, where the city of Johannesburg leads the African continent in Twitter usage.

The state has listed 107 witnesses, and has gone through just a fraction of them -- and that's before the defense can begin to present its case.

Judge Thokozile Masipa has extended the trial's official end date from March 20 to April 4. But many experts said it may go on for months beyond that - turning this sprinter's journey into a marathon.

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