Blade Runner trial begins amid global media frenzy

Just after 10am tomorrow, Oscar Pistorius will enter the dock to start the most important race of his life – charged with the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

But this time it will be a marathon rather than a sprint as the decorated Paralympian athlete faces Judge Thokozile Masipa in courtroom GD in the High Court in Pretoria.

The trial will be a high-stakes contest for the prosecution and defence, unfolding in the glare of an international media frenzy.

This week, it emerged that some among the list of 107 state witnesses, including police officers, have complained of harassment.

Claims include that international media were digging into their private lives and that there had been attempts to access cellphone records. To add to the pressure of testifying in court, the testimony of many witnesses will be broadcast live.

A police officer said a number of witnesses were incensed by international media contacting their families and friends “for dirt” on them.

“I wonder where some media got these contact details from and who helped them to get it? Did they get private detectives to obtain records? I also wonder if this is meant to rattle some witnesses?” the officer said.

A list of questions was sent to the National Prosecuting Authority, asking whether it was aware that some witnesses had been threatened with the exposure of their private lives and phone records, among other things.

But spokesman Nathi Mncube said the NPA would not comment on “any questions raised in your e-mail”.

At least two friends of the dead bikini model are expected to testify about the nature of the couple’s relationship – and about an alleged argument between them after Steenkamp, 29, found out Pistorius had been watching porn.

The 13 points on which the state says it will build its case include “the accused’s website activities” in the hours before the killing, which it describes as “in direct contrast to that of a loving couple”.

Pistorius maintains he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. In his bail application, his defence lawyers said his actions on the night did not fall within the ambit of a premeditated murder.

The defence lawyers also maintained that many South Africans, even those living in security complexes, do not feel safe.

The prosecution is also banking on the analysis of deleted and encrypted content stored on the 27-year-old athlete’s iPhone to further bolster its case.

The password Pistorius initially gave police gave them access to only his iTunes account. Three senior detectives spent a week in the US with Apple technicians to decipher the rest of the data.

Investigators, with the help of a Durban-based company, accessed some of the data in October last year. They needed official cooperation from Apple experts because a further layer of encryption protected more information.

Danny Myburgh, managing director of computer forensic firm Cyanre, confirmed that the Apple experts had helped the police.

Myburgh, a former head of the police cybercrime unit, said: “With the software upgrades we provided them they were able to access a large portion of the phone … the majority of the data. The problem is iPhones have two levels of security.”

A policeman with knowledge of the officers’ visit to Apple’s headquarters said: “Everything on the phone, including deleted information, will be analysed carefully and recorded. Transcripts of messages from SMSes and WhatsApp will be noted, times of telephone calls made and received recorded.

“It is vital to do it properly, which is why such senior and specialised police officers have been sent,” he said.

The policeman said the head of detectives, Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo, along with police technical expert Colonel Mike Sales and cellphone analysis specialist Captain Francois Moller, were due back in South Africa early this week.

Mncube said the state was ready. “We don’t take any matter to court if we are doubtful. We are satisfied that we have all the evidence we need, but of course we would try to lay our hands on any other evidence we still think we need to have.

“We are confident that we have secured all the evidence that we need to secure a conviction.”

Pistorius has been holed up in a sprawling family estate in the suburb of Waterkloof in Pretoria for the 383 days since the killing on Valentine’s Day last year.

A security guard at the entrance ensures protection from outsiders.

Apart from murder, Pistorius faces charges of reckless use of a firearm and illegal possession of ammunition.

Tomorrow, when he stands up in court to read a not-guilty plea into the record, Pistorius, despite his ultra-expensive legal team and public relations spin machine, will face the world totally alone.

On Thursday, three tiny cameras and recording equipment were installed in the court to allow for the proceedings to be broadcast around the world.

Not since American football celebrity OJ Simpson stood trial in the US 19 years ago has there been such an international media frenzy over a murder case.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel will begin to describe the events of the fateful night at Pistorius’s luxury Silver Woods Country Estate home.

Indications are that Nel will paint a picture of an aggressive, trigger-happy man prone to extreme violent outbursts with no regard for the safety of others.

Pistorius was seen leaving the family home several times this week. He now has a driver and was seen in a white Toyota SUV and white Audi A8, always seated in the back on the left. On Friday, wellwishers were seen delivering flowers to the family.

His sister Aimee, asked yesterday as she left the house how the family was holding up, replied: “I can’t comment. I’m sure you understand.”

A reporting team from The Sun newspaper in the UK were seen briefly chatting to Pistorius’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius. When they shouted “good luck” for Monday, Arnold said: “We don’t need luck, we need the truth.”

On Thursday, Pistorius stopped next to a Sunday Times photographer outside the house and greeted him in a friendly tone, saying: “How long are you going to be here for? If you get hungry, please just go to the main house and they will give you something to eat.”

Masipa will hear the case with the assistance of two assessors.

The state will say there was an argument. Steenkamp locked herself in the toilet and Pistorius fired four shots through the door at a distance greater than 60cm from the door.

In a case in which there are no eyewitnesses, expert testimony and ballistic and forensic results, among other things, will be used to provide answers to:

  • Why Steenkamp locked the door and why she took cellphones into the toilet in the middle of the night;
  • Why Pistorius first told security guards who heard shots that he was “fine” before calling for help;
  • What exactly Pistorius’s neighbours, some of whom are scheduled to testify, heard on the night; and
  • Why Pistorius did not realise that Steenkamp was not in bed when he ran towards the toilet, firearm in hand.

A team of police experts have visited the house at least five times since the killing to try to recreate the events of the night.

Additional testimony could include that of a weather expert, who will speak about conditions on the night. These could have a bearing on how much witnesses may have been able to hear.

Attempts to secure interviews with Pistorius, his agent, Peet van Zyl, as well as his defence lawyer, Brian Webber, failed.

In a statement late yesterday, Arnold Pistorius said the family as well the legal team, “will not be distracted by extraneous issues that have no bearing on, or relevance to, the legal process that must now be allowed to unfold. We love Oscar, and believe in him, and will be standing by him throughout the coming trial.”

Original Article