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The Oscar Pistorius trial will start on March 3, 2014–the case and whatever verdict is rendered by the judge–South Africa doesn’t have trial by jury–will be watched closely around the world.
The Olympic running star was indicted on charges of premeditated murder and illegal possession of ammunition in August last year. He is accused of shooting his model girlfriend Reeve Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day.
He claims he shot through the closed bathroom door thinking a burglar was hiding inside and that his model girlfriend was in bed at the time, but he ended up fatally shooting Steenkamp.
Prosecutors, who allege he killed her after an argument, submitted a list of more than 100 witnesses for the trial.
Pistorius, 26, appeared in court for the indictment, and was seen crying and holding hands with his siblings before proceedings started.
The indictment papers served on Pistorius by the state mean the case will be sent to the High Court in Pretoria, the South African capital, where a judge will preside over the trial and ultimately pronounce the athlete innocent or guilty.
The mandatory sentence for someone convicted of premeditated murder is life with a minimum of 25 years in prison, meaning if Pistorius is found guilty, he will be older than 50, at least, when he leaves prison. There is no death penalty in South Africa.
Police announced before the indictment that they had completed their six-month investigation into Steenkamp’s killing at Pistorius’ upscale home in Pretoria in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14.
A statement, from the office of South Africa’s national police commissioner, said detectives, forensic experts, ballistics experts, psychologists and technology experts all worked on the case and are confident that they have the evidence to convict Pistorius.
The most telling evidence may be in records on cellphones found at Pistorius’ home and through examination of the toilet cubicle door through which Pistorius shot four bullets, hitting Steenkamp three times and killing her. The angle or trajectory of the bullets could show if Pistorius was standing on his stumps when he shot, as he says, or if he was on his prosthetics, as the prosecution maintains—a marked difference in the two accounts.
Pistorius is a double-amputee who has prosthetic legs. He is well-known as a top runner, competing at the 2012 Olympis in 2012.
Pistorius was seen just twice in public between the time he was granted bail on Feb. 22 and a previous appearance in court on June 4. His family had announced he would return to a “low-key” track routine and he was seen jogging on his regular practice facility, and sporting a short beard, in late June 2013. Following the indictment, he has barely been seen at all or reported on by international or national media outlets.
Colonel Schoombie Van Rensburg, the second top police officer involved in the case, resigned after leaving the door that the shots were fired through–a key piece of evidence– in his office where it could easily be tampered with, a police source told the Daily Mirror.
“Records show it was booked into the storeroom, but it was kept inside Van Rensburg’s office,” the source said.
“It was actually lying on the floor in front of his desk and only taken away about a week later.” Anyone could have reached the door during this time, as the office is in the area where officers make faxes and phone calls.
However, Van Rensburg denied the claim, saying that he resigned to pursue “business interests.” He had been in the force for more than three decades.
The resignation came after the first detective in charge, Hilton Botha, left the force. Botha “was mauled in court by Pistorius’ defence team during a week-long bail hearing after admitting walking through the crime scene without protective footwear, potentially contaminating crucial evidence,” reported the Mirror.
“And his force later confirmed Botha had seven attempted murder charges pending. In 2011, he allegedly opened fire at a minibus while trying to stop the vehicle. Seven people were in the taxi at the time. Botha was investigated at the time and the case against him was dropped. But it was resurrected days after Pistorius was arrested.”
Botha told the Mirror at the time: “This is crazy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.