South Africa's Oscar Pistorius prepares to compete in a men's 400-meter race at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
(Photo: Anja Niedringhaus, AP)
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (USATODAY.com) - Legless Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius arrived Monday for his trial in Pretoria for the shooting death of his model girlfriend, with South Africans closely following a case that could send him to prison for 25 years or more.
South African press coverage of the slaying of Reeva Steenkamp in a bathroom in Pistorius' Pretoria home a year ago has been intense, with the feel of a tragic soap opera.
"I work during the day but I'm going to record it and read up on it," said Mariam Sadan, 33, an accountant. "We're sports fanatics. We care about our South African players, whether it's an injury or if they're accused of something. It's... been a shock to everybody."
Pistorius, 27, a former Olympian and double amputee called "Blade Runner" for his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs, goes on trial in North Gauteng High Court. He is charged with shooting his girlfriend four times through a toilet door with a 9mm gun, killing her on Valentine's Day 2013. He told police he believed she was an intruder.
"I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself,'' Pistorius said in an 11-page affidavit, his only testimony so far.
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 after the couple argued loudly at his home.
A cable TV channel has begun broadcasting 24-hour coverage of the trial. The channel has aired security camera video showing a smiling Steenkamp arriving at the gated community where Pistorius lived just hours before her death.
Until last week, it was not clear if the trial would be broadcast at all, and if so, who would be allowed to air it.
Pistorius' legal team had argued that TV cameras would be a "potentially distracting feature" to witnesses and interfere with his right to a fair trial. But a judge ruled television cameras will be allowed, although some of the proceedings will only be broadcast via audio.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks. He is free on bail.
Muhammed Nakwa, 38, a call center agent, said media coverage here is more extensive than it was during the O.J. Simpson murder case two decades ago, and expressed sympathy for Steenkamp's family having to wait more than a year for the proceedings to begin.
"Now it's going to open more hurt for the family," he said.
While many doubt Pistorius' claims that he believed that Steenkamp was an intruder, some remain loyal to the Olympic athlete.
"I'm curious because the circumstances were very peculiar," he added. "I'm sure he'll get a fair trial. We'll have to see the evidence."
Some expressed a clear opinion of guilt.
"The general public thinks he killed his girlfriend," said Rowland White, 43, a video editor. "I want to see the evidence presented. He's committed murder. She would have screamed, 'It's me, don't shoot.'"
White said that he doubts that Pistorius will be acquitted.
"The South African public knows he did it," White said. "Your first warning shot is up."