JOHANNESBURG — With his past triumphs now tarnished because he shot to death his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius on Monday will enter court to be confronted with the jarring possibility that he will be sent to prison for at least 25 years.
For the champion runner without legs, who trained himself to overcome all obstacles, nothing else matters now but beating the murder charge against him. Pistorius’ family said Saturday that their focus is only on the trial. If found guilty, Pistorius’ entire life story will be recast.
When Pistorius walks on his prosthetics into North Gauteng High Court for the start of his trial, seemingly little remains of the Blade Runner, the double amputee who ran alongside the world’s best and inspired many by overcoming the loss of his legs.
Now, the 27-year-old Olympian must fight allegations that, in a rage, he intentionally shot at girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door, killing her. Prosecutors allege that Pistorius then lied extensively about the shooting, throwing doubt on everything the world thought it knew about him.
Pistorius’ life is up for debate, not just the events in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called Pistorius a man “willing and ready to fire and kill” as the state charged him with premeditated murder. Prosecutors say there was “a measure of preparation” in the way he killed Steenkamp.
Pistorius gives a totally different story, saying he was terrified that there was a dangerous intruder in his home about to hurt him and the woman he says he loved dearly.
“I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself,” Pistorius says in an 11-page affidavit, his only testimony so far. She died in his arms, he says.
The state’s account makes Pistorius out to be a cold and calculating killer; his own description is of a disabled man who made a terrible mistake. Which version is true? It is the question that will underline Pistorius’ entire trial.
It’s a case where forensic and ballistic experts and criminal psychologists will feature prominently, and where bullet trajectory, blood spatter, cellphone records and the debate over gun ownership and South Africa’s violent crime problem will play a part, all revolving around a famous figure.
Pistorius’ mindset and intention in the hours leading up to 3 a.m. last Feb. 14 is what ultimately matters.
What clues do we have from him?
His life has been tumultuous and touched by tragedy before. Pistorius emerged from the hardship of his disability and the sudden death of his mother, the biggest influence on him, to become a role model for many. He was banned from competing against the able-bodied but he got that overturned. He was a boundary-breaking athlete who tested the world’s preconceptions of what disabled meant and did it with apparent humility and decency.
There were flashes of something else though: two years ago when he was reportedly with friends in a car pulled over by traffic police and, after an altercation, he allegedly responded as they drove away by shooting his gun angrily out the sunroof. Did Pistorius reach for his 9mm pistol again when angry on Valentine’s Day, prosecutors will ask.
Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor said months before the shooting: “Oscar is certainly not what people think he is.”
Only the trial verdict will decide what he is.