Pistorius at risk of 'trial by media': judge


South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius appears on Feb. 21, 2013, at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria, South Africa. After four days of combative hearings, a South African magistrate on Friday granted bail for Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.


Alexander Joe

PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius appeared in court Tuesday for the first time in more than three months, thronged by cameras amid a warning from the South African magistrate that media coverage threatens to “scandalize” his trial.

Pistorius, the Paralympic gold medalist accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day, remained composed as the pre-trial hearing was postponed until August 19 to allow prosecutors and police more time to investigate.

But during the brief 20-minute hearing, Pretoria Court Magistrate Daniel Thulare took time to deliver a stern lecture. Thulare cautioned the media about “at most scandalizing, at least contemptuous actions,” and warned against “trial by media” which may “scandalize the court processes and the administration of justice.”

Although Thulare didn’t single out any news organization, British broadcaster Sky News last week aired graphic images that purportedly show the crime scene, including the blood-spattered toilet area where Steenkamp was mortally wopunded by three bullets.

In one of the leaked photos broadcast around the world, bullet holes are seen marked in what appears to be the bathroom door through which Pistorius fired his 9mm pistol.

The Pistorius family said in a statement Monday that it was “shaken” by the images.

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"It has always been our plea that the legal process be allowed its run its course with integrity,” the statement said. “The leaking of evidential material into the public domain before the court case does not advance this process."

Throughout the court appearance, Pistorius, 26, stood bolt straight in a dark grey suit and without expression, in contrast to his emotional breakdowns during his week-long bail hearing in February. He spoke only once, to say “yes, Your Honor.”

Family members including brother Carl, sister Aimee and uncle Arnold Pistorius sat behind him on the wooden courtroom benches, huddling around him ahead of proceedings.

As expected, Reeva Steenkamp’s family members were not in court. But in an interview broadcast Monday on the UK’s Channel 5, her mother June Steenkamp said she was desperate to know why her daughter had been killed.

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She recounted that her daughter and Pistorius had been “fighting a lot” despite having only dated for a few months before her death.

“I want to know why he shot her because she must have been so afraid in that toilet,” June Steenkamp said, in the only in-depth interview since her daughters’ death.

“She must have also been in severe pain. We don’t know what happened, it's only one person who knows what happened.”

Pistorius has said he shot and killed Steenkamp by mistake in the early hours of February 14 at his home on a posh private estate near Pretoria, mistaking her for an intruder.

Prosecutors maintain that Pistorius killed his girlfriend intentionally, and have pressed charges of premeditated murder against the man nicknamed “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fiber prosthetic running legs.

Pistorius was freed on bail of 1 million rand ($110,000), and in March, a court eased his bail conditions, lifting restrictions including on drinking alcohol and traveling abroad as long as he follows certain procedures.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, in London 2012, where he reached the 400-meter semifinals. He has won a total of six gold medals at Paralympic Games.

Medupe Simasiku, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday that at the next hearing — which falls on what would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday — the magistrate will likely rule on when and in which court the trial will take place.

“Investigations are at a very sensitive stage. We believe that by August we’ll have wrapped up everything,” Simasiku said.