First Week of Pistorius Trial Brings Primetime Drama

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The first week of Oscar Pistorius's murder trial ended on Friday, after days of testimony during which prosecutors endeavored to prove the South African double amputee Olympic athlete was capable of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, a sprinter, has never denied shooting his Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder when he fired at a locked bathroom door on Valentine's Day 2013. But the trial, which began Monday in Pretoria’s North Gauteng High Court, had so far featured witnesses describing Pistorius as trigger-happy and temperamental.

Michelle Burger, the first, said she was awakened that night by loud screams and the sound of four gun shots coming from the direction of Pistorius’s house.

“It was blood curdling, it was something that leaves you cold…you just know that a woman’s life was really threatened,” Burger said. But Pistorius’s defense attorney, Barry Roux, moved to poke holes in Burger’s testimony, questioning how she could hear what was going on from a distance equal to nearly two football fields.

Some of the more compelling witnesses still to come include a group of Pistorius’s elite friends; Gina Myers, Steenkamp’s best friend; and Det. Hilton Botha, one of the first officers at the scene of the shooting, who was controversially removed from the case.

An emotional trial

The Pistorius trial is the first time South Africa has allowed a court proceeding to be televised, and in the first week, the nation was captivated-- a television station was launched to exclusively cover the trial, which has so far delivered prime time-level drama.

On Wednesday, Pistorius sobbed as he listened to the testimony of his neighbor Johan Stipp.

Stipp, a doctor, told the court he rushed to the house when he heard guns shots and screams that night, only to find Pistorius kneeling over Steenkamp’s body.

“I remember the first thing he said when I got there was, 'I shot her. I thought she was a burglar, and I shot her,'" Stipp testified.

Stipp tried to help Pistorious revive Steenkamp, who had been shot in the leg, arm and head.

“Oscar was crying all the time,” said Stipp. “He prayed to God to 'Please, let her live. She must not die.'”

Pistorius has yet to take the stand, but his account of what happened on the night he shot Steenkamp is already on the record as part of his bail proceedings.

He alleges that because it was dark, he did not notice Steenkamp was not in their bed, and that he felt frightened and vulnerable as he fired four shots through the bathroom door.

It's unclear when prosecutors will introduce forensic evidence, but those details are highly anticipated.

David Klatzow, a South African forensics specialist, said ballistic evidence will be crucial in the case.

“The ballistics will establish where the shooter was, what he was aiming at, and more or less his state of ability to shoot,” said Klatzow. “Was he hiked up on adrenaline? Was he shaking and shooting all over the place? Was he close to the door? Was he far from the door? Those are important.

Creating an image

For the prosecution, the first week centered on the attempt to paint Pistorius not as South Africa’s Olympic hero, but a trigger-happy, temperamental man, who is prone to anger and dishonesty.

Kevin Lerner, a local boxer and friend of Pistorius was called to the stand to recall an incident in which the athlete accidentally discharged a gun under a table at a restaurant and then asked another friend to take the blame.

"This paints a picture of a person that's a little bit erratic."

“I remember Oscar saying, 'Take the blame for me, there is too much media around me,'” said Lerner, who has been the only witness so far who allowed his face to be televised.

But perhaps the most salacious and damning testimony came from Samantha Taylor, Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend, who testified that he kept a gun on his bedside table, was prone to outbursts of anger and often screamed at her in front of family and friends. When asked how the relationship ended, she revealed he had cheated on her with Steenkamp.

“This paints a picture of a person that's a little bit erratic,” said South African lawyer Marius Du Toit. “It paints a picture of a person who has got a flawed character, a person that's perhaps a bit arrogant.”

Many South Africans say they have yet to make up their mind whether their fallen hero is guilty or not.

“I’ve decided not to make my mind up about it,” said Kenton Smith, a citizen who came to court this week to observe the trial. “I’ve decided to not make up my mind because of his determination ... he’s sticking with the 'I’m not guilty' so I decided to listen to the evidence as it comes out instead of just jumping to conclusions.”

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