While many of the world’s top track and field athletes showcased their talents on the largest non-Olympic stage over the last week, competing for medals and the accompanying leverage in sponsorship negotiations, Oscar Pistorius, will take center stage in a different forum tomorrow, the South African court system. For Pistorius, the stakes will be much higher than medals or negotiating leverage; the next twenty-five years of his life, minimum.
After a six month investigation, the Olympian appeared in the Pretoria Migistrate’s Court on Monday to be indicted for the shooting death of his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp. An indictment hearing is a forum to formally accuse an individual of the charges against them and demonstrate that there is sufficient evidence to make such an accusation. South Africa does not have trial by jury.
The state has already made it clear that the main charge against Pistorius will be premeditated murder, a charge carrying a minimum sentence of twenty-five years in prison. If found guilty, Pistorius' sentence would last until he is 50 years old. South African courts do not apply the death penalty.
While the main charge will be a surprise to no one, there will be two note-worthy points in the otherwise predictable hearing. The first is the potential and apparent likelihood of the state bringing additional charges beyond premeditated murder. It has been speculated that Pistorius may be charged with two counts of recklessly discharging a firearm. These relatively insignificant charges stem from separate occurrences and would likely be used by the prosecution as a mechanism to paint Pistorius as having a history of being loose and fast with his trigger finger.
The second point of interest will be the state’s production of a list of expected witnesses and detailed outline of evidence collected during the course of its six month investigation. This list will essentially give Pistorius’ defense team a look into the prosecution’s playbook. After learning the details of what they are up against, Pistorius’ lawyers will likely have until March 3, before the trial actually begins, to formulate a plan as to how they can best counter in the prosecution’s attempt at proving premeditated murder.
Analysis: Pistorius has been formally charged with premeditated murder and possession of ammunition he did not have a license to possess. More importantly, for the first time the defense team and the rest of the world got a clear look into the prosecution’s playbook. The prosecution’s evidence will include 107 witnesses, ballistic evidence and cell phone records. In an attempt to paint Pistorius as a trigger happy, hot head the prosecution’s witnesses are likely to testify to events such as Pistorius firing his gun out the sun roof of a moving car and threatening to break a man’s legs during an argument.
The prosecution will then attempt to convince a judge that the murder occurred after a heated argument. The prosecution will present phone records from the night in question, as well as testimony of witnesses who allegedly heard screaming coming from Pistorius’ home before the shots were fired.
A key piece of evidence will likely be the analysis of the bullet holes in the door Pistorius shot Steenkamp through. From the start, Pistorius has maintained that he was not wearing his prosthesis and as a result was in an extremely vulnerable position. The prosecution has publicly contested that point. If the prosecution can show that Pistorius did in fact take the time to put on his prosthesis, not only will it show that he has been lying, it will more importantly demonstrate that Pistorius had time to contemplate his actions. Experts will consider the height and angle that the bullet holes were fired at in their attempt to make a determination.
Tyler Leverington will assist with Flotrack's coverage of the Oscar Pistorius case. Leverington is a second-year law student. He ran for North Dakota State for five years before wrapping up his NCAA eligibility with Marquette. Follow him on Twitter.