There are those who say the trial of Oscar Pistorius will be “as big as OJ’s”. But that’s an inadequate comparison. This case will surely attract much more attention. For unlike Simpson, Pistorius goes on trial as an established, global icon: The double amputee, who starred at the London Olympics, then came to epitomise the phrase ‘fallen hero’.
On Monday he will return to a Pretoria courtroom accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year.
As in the 1995 Simpson case, this will be a television trial. After a historic decision that might add to the sense of circus, many witnesses will give evidence in front of live cameras.
But this trial will also take place amid the frenzied free-for-all of social media commentary – with every twist likely to become a trending topic, and even Pistorius’ PR team due to join the conversation, using a Twitter account called @OscarHardTruth.
The courtroom will be packed – with reporters scrambling for seats around the dozen places reserved for the Pistorius family and a similar number set aside for the Steenkamps. In the public gallery, both families will come face-to-face for the first time.
And then, the trial will begin. There will be no jury – that system was abolished in South Africa in 1969 for fears of racial prejudice. Instead, a single judge will decide Pistorius’ fate -Thokozile Matilda Masipa, a former newspaper journalist who covered the crime beat for years, reporting extensively on the injustices of apartheid.
Thanks to leaked legal documents, we know more than we should about the evidence that she will hear. Prosecutors will claim that Pistorius shot his girlfriend, firing through the locked door of his bathroom, after a furious disagreement. According to the court file, state lawyers claim “…there was an argument between the accused and the deceased. The accused killed the deceased because of the argument.”
But prosecutors admit: “The state is unaware of the exact details of the argument or when it started”
Yet, there is much that the prosecution and defence teams do agree on: even the once-contentious issue of whether Pistorius was using his prosthetic legs at the time of the shooting.
State lawyers who had argued that ‘the Blade Runner’ took time to attach his legs before firing his gun - suggesting a few moments of consideration - now concede that he was on his stumps when he shot through the door.
As both sides make their arguments, there is likely to be evidence from ballistics experts, forensic scientists and even a weather forecaster.
And yet the case might not hang on science, but more nuanced questions about Pistorius’ state of mind.
Friends and enemies will be called – giving descriptions of Pistorius that range from a love-struck sweetheart to a gun-wielding cowboy.
Then Judge Masipa will then decide whether the killing of Reeva Steenkamp was a pre-planned murder or a tragic mistake.