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Oscar Pistorius murder trial: What we know so far

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Everyone seems to have an opinion on Oscar Pistorius' claim that he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by accident at his home in South Africa on Valentine's Day last year, but the one person who can officially decide whether the killing was premeditated or not is Judge Thokozile Masipa, as there is no jury system in South Africa.

As the high-profile murder trial continues into its fourth week at Pretoria High Court, here's a summary of what we know so far:

Background

Pistorius shot four times through a locked toilet door in his apartment in Pretoria, shortly after 3am on February 14, 2013. Three of the shots hit his girlfriend of three months, Steenkamp, killing the 29-year-old South African law graduate and model.

The double-amputee Olympian, known as the Blade Runner, was charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp on August 19, 2013 - what would have been Steenkamp's 30th birthday.

Pistorius, 27, admits killing Steenkamp, but denies premeditated murder, claiming her death was an accident. He maintains that he believed he was shooting to protect himself from an intruder.

Reeva Steenkamp's parents look on as Oscar Pistorius gives evidence at his murder trial this week

What the defence says, what the prosecution says

INTRUDER

Defence

Pistorius' defence rests on his claim that he fired shots because he thought he was under threat from an intruder. He says he woke to the sound of the window opening in the bathroom and took his gun to the bathroom to protect himself, then shot when he heard a noise from behind the door.

Prosecution

His apartment is in the exclusive Silver Woods Estate, a gated country compound with 24-hour security. The prosecution has established that the athlete had not been a victim of crime in the apartment since he moved there in 2008.

BEDROOM

Defence

When questioned on why he chose to go to the bathroom where he thought an intruder was if he felt vulnerable on his stumps, rather than escape throught the bedroom's main door that was on the way to the bathroom, Pistorius said he wanted to put himself between the bathroom and the bed, where he said he thought Steenkamp was.

Prosecution

prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel said the athlete's account was improbable, questioning why he did not check Steenkamp was alright and approaching the apparent intruder rather than exiting the room and leaving his complex's secuity or the police to deal with the problem. Nel also asked why an intruder would lock himself in a toilet.

STUMPS

Defence

The athlete claims he wasn't wearing his stumps when he went into his bathroom.

Prosecution

Prosecutors initially alleged that he put his prosthetic legs on before he went to the bathroom and opened fire, supporting the charge of premeditated murder, as it suggests the athlete did not panic as he claimed. The prosecution's own ballistics experts later refuted this with legal documents that said he was 'most likely' on his stumps when he fired.

Oscar Pistorius pictured at an event with Reeva Steenkamp

REEVA

Defence

He told the court that he believed Reeva was still laying in bed next to him when he heard what he thought was an intruder and says that he felt around the bed for his gun, telling the court: "I whispered to Reeva to get down and phone the police."

Prosecution

Lawyers for the prosecution claim that Pistorius and Steenkamp had an argument that resulted in her screaming - loudly enough for neighbours to hear - and running to the toilet to escape the Olympian. They question why his girlfriend did not respond to his screams to call the police when he says he heard an intruder.

SHOTS

Defence

Pistorius says he fired four shots in quick succession, but the shots were not double-taps - a shooting technique used in close range practice where two well-aimed shots are fired at a target in quick succession. It was Pistorius' own lawyer who initially said that the sprint runner fired double-taps. Pistorius corrected this claim, testifying that he had been taught the technique in gun training but says the shots he fired were done in a panic and he could not remember how many exactly he had fired.

CRICKET BAT

Defence

Pistorius says that when it dawned on him that it may be Steenkamp behind the toilet door he tried to batter it down, but was unable to on his stumps. He says that he went back to the bedroom to put his prosthetic legs on and used a cricket bat to smash in the door.

Prosecution

The prosecution argues that Pistorius hit the door with the cricket bat before he fired the the shots.

Police forensic expert Colonel Johannes Vermeulen holds a cricket bat in front of the toilet door in court

SCREAMS

Defence

In response to claims by neighbours who said they heard a woman's screams, defence lawyer Barry Roux told the court that the screams they heard actually belonged to a fearful Pistorius as he believed intruders were in his apartment, claiming that the athlete sounds like a woman when he screams.

Prosecution

Neighbours Annette and Johan Stipp testified that they heard gunshots followed by female screams and male shouts coming from Pistorius' apartment in the early hours of February 14th, 2013. Three other neighbours testified that they heard screams then shots. It has been suggested that some bangs heard by witnesses may have been from the cricket bat hitting the toilet door.

GUNS

Defence

The athlete told the trial that his mother, who died when he was 15, kept a gun under her pillow and that he carried a gun with him wherever he went. Pistorius testified that he had been the victim of crime over the years but didn't trust the effectiveness of South African police enough to report them. He said his disability increased his feelings of vulnerability.

Prosecution

Pistorius' relationship with guns has worked in the prosecution's favour.

  • Witnesses have testified that he once shot a gun out of a sunroof and that a gun he was handling went off inside a restaurant, supporting the prosecution's portrayal of him as trigger-happy and irresponsible with firearms.
  • Video footage was shown to the court of Pistorius doing target practice and referring to the gun he was using as a "zombie stopper" after seeing how it blew apart watermelons.
  • Responding to Pistorius' claim that he always carried a gun, prosecution lawyer Nel got the athlete to admit under cross-examination that he left his gun 'wrapped in a towel' on a boat when he went swimming, and didn't think this was "negligent.”
  • When it emerged that a magazine of bullets was found in Pistorius' bedside dresser, Nel questioned whether Pistorius locked his magazines inside a safe each time he left his apartment and then took them out everytime he returned, as it is illegal in South Africa to not have magazines locked away. Pistorius told the court that he did.

FANS

Defence

Pistorius says police moved key items in the bedroom: fans, the duvet on the bed, his jeans, the curtains and that they opened the balcony door. Part of his defense is that he didn't see Steenkamp getting up to go to the toilet as the fan was blowing in his face, but the crime scene photos don't support this.

Prosecution

The prosecution says that Pistorius is lying as the apparent crime scene contamination is the only way he can maintain that his version of events is true.

WHATSAPP MESSAGES

Defence

Pistorius says that disagreements the couple had - illustrated by tense exchanges on Whatsapp - were not representative of them as a couple, saying "it was a bad day in our relationship."

Prosecution

The prosecution focuses on a message from Steenkamp telling her boyfriend 'I'm scared of you sometimes' and portrays the relationship as unhappy and Pistorius as selfish and intimidating.

CONTROVERSIES OF THE CASE

POLICE

  • The lead detective in the case, Hilton Botha, was charged with seven attempted murders. The charges stemmed from one incident in 2011 when he and two other officers reportedly shot at a murder suspect in a minivan. The charges were dropped then reinstated shortly before Steenkamp's death.
  • In the aftermath of the shooting, ballistics officials handled Pistorius' gun without gloves. Botha altered his initial statement on how far witnesses were from the crime scene and other investigators in the case missed a bullet in the toilet bowl, failed to take pictures of a box of bullets - while taking shots of Pistorius' medals.
  • Officers allegedly stole expensive watches from the athlete.
  • Police removed the toilet door from the crime scene, in a bid to prevent officers from selling pictures of it to the press.

DRUGS

Botha said police found two boxes of testosterone, syringes and needles in Pistorius' bedroom cupboard but later a police spokesman said that the contents of the box were unknown. The defense said the boxes contained a herbal sex aid, commonly used to boost sexual stamina.

Oscar Pistorius looking at his phone in the dock at his murder trial

PORN

Pistorius' iPad was used to search for pornography on the evening before the murder, which the athlete spent with his girlfriend, according to testimony from a police phone expert witness for the prosecution. Pistorius has testified that he took a bath and laid on his bed browing the internet while Steenkamp was in the kitchen cooking dinner for the pair. Used car website were also accessed on the iPad on the same evening, the court was told.

EX-GIRLFRIEND

Samantha Taylor, Pistorius' ex-girlfriend who testified against him, claiming that he had cheated on her, tweeted: "Last lies you get to tell. You better make it worth your while" - after he testified that she had cheated on him and tried to get back with him after they broke up. She later deleted the comment.

VOMITING

Court officials keep a bucket on hand because Pistorius has repeatedly been sick in the dock.

CAMERAS

The trial is broadcast live and there is a dedicated 'Oscar Trial Channel' employing an 180-strong team.

GRAPHIC IMAGES

Pictures of Steenkamp's dead body were shown in court without any warning this week. Graphic images of her bloodied court were also flashed up for a fraction of a second last month during the trial.

Words: Anna Pollitt. Images: Rex Features

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