The trial of South Africa’s Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, who pleaded not guilty of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year, has been adjourned.
The case will resume on Tuesday following a fierce defence by Pistorius’ legal team on day one of his murder trial on Monday.
After a state prosecutor read out a charge that Pistorius “unlawfully and intentionally did kill” girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the sprinter responded “not guilty, my lady”, according to the AFP news agency.
Pistorius’s plea was a repeat of his bail hearing assertions that he killed Steenkamp, a model, after tragically mistaking her for an intruder hiding in the toilet.
The case is likely to open a decisive chapter in the story of the rise and fall of one of the world’s most recognisable athletes, the Reuters news agency reported.
Pistorious has already admitted to culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, a crime that could see him put away for 15 years.
On the first day of the trial the track star’s advocate, Barry Roux, repeatedly and pointedly challenged Pistorius’ neighbour and university lecturer Michelle Burger, picking at potential inconsistencies in her account.
Roux questioned Burger over the number of gunshots heard, asking why she heard four shots and her husband, who is yet to testify, reported hearing more.
“Was your husband right when he said five or six shots?” said Roux.
“I’m certain I have heard four gun shots, I don’t speak on my husband’s behalf,” said Burger.
Prosecutors will seek to prove that Pistorius – known as “Blade Runner” after his carbon-fiber running prosthetics – fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through the door of the toilet adjoining the bedroom of his luxury Pretoria home in a deliberate attempt to kill whoever was lurking behind it.
Shot three times
Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate, women’s rights campaigner and regular on South Africa’s celebrity party scene, was hit three times, in the head, arm and hip. She was declared dead on the scene.
If the state succeeds in convincing Judge Thokozile Masipa of intent to kill, Pistorius will go down for life, in all likelihood a minimum of 25 years behind bars.
The trial is due to last a minimum of three weeks but with as many as 107 witnesses waiting to be called by either side, it is almost certain to last far longer.
Juries were abolished by the apartheid government in the 1960s. Most legal experts say proving intent in the absence of direct witnesses will be tough.