For the first time in nearly four months, the world will lay eyes upon the disgraced double-amputee Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius when he appears at a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday in the Valentine's Day killing of his longtime model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The court proceedings will be short on time but long on emotion, with both the prosecution and the defense planning to push back the start of South Africa's most tabloid-friendly trial. Will the Blade Runner cry again? And will Steenkamp's family have to endure any more bloody photos without any real answers? Here's what to expect at Pistorius's public re-emergence and beyond.
Why Isn't the Trial Really Starting Yet?
Investigators still need time to gather evidence, prosecutors will ask for an extension to help them do it, and the judge in the case is expected to grant the delay. According to the Associated Press, the trial will probably be pushed back until August — some seven months after Pistorius killed Steenkamp on Valentine's Day — and all that evidence from investigators may not even be presented until September or October. An early botched selection of an investigative lead wanted for murder himself sent cops back to the drawing board, and the Mail & Guardian expects a "swift adjournment" at Tuesday morning's hearing in Pretoria, which Reuters reports, by way of a spokesperson for the prosecution, "which may not even go above 10 minutes."
How Ugly Is This Going to Get?
Both sides will have time to work on their cases, obviously, but this trial could get very nasty in the meantime. Last week, perhaps in anticipation of Tuesday's hearing, bloody crime scene photos leaked, purportedly showing the tiny bathroom where Steenkamp was shot to death. (You can find those here, but fair warning, they're pretty gruesome and people have questioned the news agencies that ran the photos after the UK's Sky News let them out in the open.) Two or three months worth of true-crime drama playing out in the South African tabloids could lead to more of that, not to mention tabloid fodder like "flirting" with women now that the legless Olympic sprinter is legally allowed to move around the world.
Judging from the worldwide reaction to the photos, Pistorius's case isn't going to get bolstered if new details make their way out in public, even as his team continues to press magistrates and law enforcement authorities for a fair trial. "It has always been our plea that the legal process be allowed its run its course with integrity," the Pistorius family said in a statement on Monday. "The leaking of evidential material into the public domain, before the court case, does not advance this process."
Isn't This All Pretty Tough on the Victim's Family?
Well, prepare for a barrage of Steenkamp documentaries and more secrets of her personal life to be revealed. "Why Did Oscar Pistorius Kill Our Daughter?" is one of said documentaries, which just aired on the UK's Channel 5 with family interviews. Per Sky News, her mother is straightforward: "There is only one person who knows what happened." That would be Pistorius, though Steenkamp's family members "feel bad that we couldn't protect her." Pistorius's uncle, Arnold, in the documentary, continued to plead for time: "We continue to have great faith in the South African legal justice system and believe that Oscar's account of what happened on that terrible night in February will be borne out by the evidence that the defence team will lead in court."
That still leaves one big question:
Is This Really the First Time We've Seen Pistorius Since February?
Yeah. The "Blade Runner" has kept a relatively low profile since he was granted bail. There was that one report from April when he was seen "partying" and not necessarily "mourning" the death of his girlfriend. And he was seen practicing with his blades that same month, but other than that tomorrow's short hearing will be his first re-emergence since an emotional appearance in what South African courts — which don't have a trial by jury — refer to as "the dock," a suspect holding pen of sorts as memorable for the photo-ops as the justice taking place therein. He broke down in tears the first time he appeared there to hear the homicide charges against him.
So He Could Be Facing What Kind of Prison Time?
If convicted of murdering Steenkamp, which Pistorius has claimed was an accident, the Olympic runner could see up to 25 years in jail. According to the Associated Foreign Press, his lawyers will seek a different charge called culpable homicide, which in "extreme" cases, "with proven negligence and recklessness in the killing, carry a maximum sentence of 15 years."