Mon, Mar 03, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Pistorius’ family calls for end to ‘public commentary’

UNFLATTERING PORTRAIT:The state has called 107 witnesses for Oscar Pistorius’ trial which starts today, including ex-girlfriends Melissa Rom and Samantha Taylor

The Observer, JOHANNESBURG

The family of Oscar Pistorius have called for an end to “public commentary” on his murder trial as he prepares for his biggest and most nerve-racking day in the world spotlight, dwarfing any of his star turns on the track.

Competition for gold, silver or bronze medals will be rendered trivial when the double-amputee athlete known as the “Blade Runner” enters court to a barrage of clicking cameras today.

Pistorius is standing trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, at his luxury home in Pretoria, South Africa, on Valentine’s Day last year. He claims her death was an accident.

Along with the intense legal tussle, Pistorius also faces the extraordinary mental pressure of a trial in the court of public opinion, thanks to intense scrutiny by international newspapers, and live television and radio broadcasts of proceedings. South Africa will even have a 24-hour TV channel devoted to coverage of, and commentary on, the trial.

Even if the Paralympic champion is found not guilty, his reputation will never be the same again as no stone of his personal life will be left unturned. A foretaste came on Saturday when Britain’s Sun newspaper reported that Pistorius, 27, had a new girlfriend, Leah Skye, a 19-year-old student paramedic, labeled “Blade Stunner” by the paper.

A source close to the story said that the couple had in fact already separated, coincidentally on Valentine’s Day.

Pistorius’ family declined to comment.

“With less than two days before the commencement of Oscar’s criminal trial, the family, as well as the legal team, will not be distracted by extraneous issues that have no bearing on, or relevance to, the legal process that must now be allowed to unfold,” the athlete’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said. “We will not be commenting on any media reports, nor will we be engaging the press on any issues that belong in court. The time for public commentary is over. The focus is now entirely on a very serious trial that is set to start this Monday. We love Oscar and believe in him, and will be standing by him throughout the coming trial.”

The state has 107 witnesses for the trial, including Pistorius’ ex-girlfriends Melissa Rom and Samantha Taylor. Erin Stear, who has denied reports she had an affair with Pistorius, is also taking the stand. In addition, the court is to hear from former soccer player Mark Batchelor, who has claimed that Pistorius threatened to “break my legs” because he was a close friend of Steenkamp.

Prosecutors are expected to build an unflattering portrait of the accused as reckless, hot-headed and obsessed with guns, every detail of which will be broadcast to the world and lapped up by pundits.

The court will hear how, in one incident, Pistorius accidentally discharged a pistol under the table in a Johannesburg restaurant. In another, he put a bullet, in a fit of rage, through the sunroof of a previous girlfriend’s car.

Shortly after Steenkamp’s death, Nike had to scrap an advertisement that showed Pistorius bursting out of the starting blocks beneath the slogan: “I am the bullet in the chamber.”

Today he will face Steenkamp’s mother, June, for the first time. She has already made her feelings clear in a TV interview last year, recalling an incident in which Steenkamp telephoned her from Pistorius’ car.

“She was afraid,” June Steenkamp said. “She was so afraid. She said: ‘Mummy, I’m in the car with Oscar and he’s driving like a lunatic. Like a lunatic.’ So I said, will you just give him the phone? She gave the phone to Oscar straight away and I said if you hurt my baby, I will have you wiped out.”

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