The trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius has been postponed due to a mystery illness picked up by one of the case’s judicial assessors. Just minutes after Pistorius arrived at court to begin the first day of his defence; Judge Thokozile Masipa cancelled proceedings with the intention of resuming them on April 7. The South African-born former sprinter, dubbed “Blade Runner” because of his necessary use of prosthetic legs, is being tried over the death of model Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot dead in his bathroom on Valentine’s Day 2013.
As the courtroom began to fill up with officials, lawyers and the defendant himself, Masipa relayed her decision to call a halt for the day on account of the fact the one of her assessors had been hospitalised after becoming sick. As there are no juries in South African court cases, Pistorius’ fate is to be decided by the judge herself with the assistance of two judicial assessors that she has appointed. The absence of one means that the court would not be properly constituted and hearings could no longer fairly commence.
It is understood that Janet Hezen-Du Toit is the ailed assessor; with no one else involved (including second assessor Themba Mazibuko) becoming afflicted.
Before the killing, Oscar Pistorius was one of South Africa’s most admired sons. Having been a prolific Paralympic athlete, he attempted to race at the able-bodied 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, missing out on 400m qualification by 0.70 seconds. In 2012, he became the first ever amputee runner to compete at the Olympic Games, finishing second in the heats to advance to the semi-finals where he came last with a time of 46.54 seconds.
On February 14, 2013, Oscar Pistorius shot and killed then girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the locked door to his bathroom, claiming to have mistaken her for an intruder. Should his trial not have been postponed due to the mystery illness on Friday, it was expected that Pistorius would have taken the stand to testify about the shooting.
Overall proceedings commenced on March 3, with witnesses testifying to hearing arguing from his apartment on the night Steenkamp was killed, followed by a woman’s screams and gunshots. During the cross-examination of these witnesses, the defence team (headed by lawyer Barry Roux) attempted to establish that the screams heard were in fact those of Pistorius himself calling for help after the incident had occurred.
On the sixth day of the trial, Pistorius vomited several times during the testimony of pathologist Gert Saayman, who graphically described injuries sustained by Steenkamp on the night of her death. So far, this testimony is the only portion of the case that hasn’t been broadcast live on television, after Judge Masipa agreed that its content was unsuitable for coverage on any media outlet (with specific reference to Twitter).
With it being decided that the trial should be postponed until April 7 due to the mystery illness, what was originally planned by the defence as an opportunity for Oscar Pistorius to provide verbal evidence in support of his innocence has turned into an agonizing wait to get back into the courtroom to clear the name of whom they believe to be an innocent man.
Opinion by Zachary John