South Africans Engrossed By Pistorius Trial

Host Renee Montagne talks to Erin Conway-Smith, southern Africa editor for GlobalPost, about the murder trial of Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In South Africa, people are riveted to the trial of Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, known worldwide as the Blade Runner. He's accused of murdering his girlfriend. Pistorius says he mistook her for an intruder. Prosecutors maintain he shot her deliberately last year on Valentine's Day.

GlobalPost correspondent Erin Conway-Smith has been in the courtroom.

Good morning.

ERIN CONWAY-SMITH: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Remind us, to begin, why this trial is so sensational there.

CONWAY-SMITH: This trial is so sensational because Oscar Pistorius is such a big name in South Africa. For him to have shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine's Day has the makings for dramatic case. I really think that South Africans of all backgrounds and all demographics are really paying attention to this trial. If you go out in public in South Africa - if I'm just taking a taxi or the train or at a barbecue - conversation inevitably turns to the Pistorius trial. It seems like everybody has a theory or something to say about it.

MONTAGNE: If you would, please, take us into the courtroom. I mean, so far, the prosecution has been making its case. What have been some of the more unforgettable moments?

CONWAY-SMITH: A particularly dramatic moment was at the end of last week, when the door of the toilet cubicle in Oscar Pistorius' bathroom - through which he fired four bullets, killing Reeva Steencamp - was in the court, in a kind of reconstruction. And that was particularly dramatic moment, especially seeing a police forensic analyst trying out different movements, to show what he thinks would have happened when Reeva Steencamp died.

MONTAGNE: Now, there's, as you said, lots of evidence, and it's all to the question simply of did he or did he not intend to murder her. So, at this early point in the prosecution's case, how powerful does the evidence seem?

CONWAY-SMITH: Most of it, to be honest, has been circumstantial evidence thus far. You know, we've heard from neighbors who heard screams and shouts. But the defense attorney, a man named Barry Roux, has been pretty good at tearing some of these witnesses apart. And so it's really impossible to know at this stage what the judge is looking for. Of course, in South Africa, we don't have the jury system.

So, just watching it from the courtroom, it's sort of really hard to know where it's all going. Part of that is, in South Africa, the prosecution doesn't have to lay out its case at the beginning of the trial. So this means the case has been kind of jumping around a bit, going from neighbor witnesses to former friends of Oscar Pistorius, who are testifying as to two separate firearms-related charges.

MONTAGNE: Right. And he's a person who did have guns, and has been known to use them. So, you know, it's been an open trial, as I said. It's been televised on TV. Reporters are even live-tweeting from the courtroom. In fact, a friend of Pistorius, who was called to testify about his gunplay, while on the stand, admitted he'd been following the trial of Twitter, which seems unusual.

CONWAY-SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this really is a first for South Africa, the fact that it is being broadcast on live TV. And the presence on Twitter has been enormous.

MONTAGNE: Well, what is ahead?

CONWAY-SMITH: We still haven't heard from any of the defense witnesses. Oscar Pistorius is expected to be called as a witness by the defense. But, you know, to be honest, this trial was already dragging on longer than expected. We have at least a few more weeks to go, as it stands, maybe even more. So, you know, you can expect very specific details from forensic analysts called by the state and then, later, the defense is expected to call its own forensic analysts.

So we'll see if public interest continues, because, to be honest, it sometimes gets a little bit tedious.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That's GlobalPost correspondent Erin Conway-Smith, covering the trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa.

This is NPR News.

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