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CNN SPOTLIGHT: The Oscar Pistorius Trial

Aired September 12, 2014 - 22:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He was a hero on the track. She was a beautiful model. They had it all, until Valentine's Day, 2013. Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

In a spectacular trial...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you plead?

OSCAR PISTORIUS, DEFENDANT: Not guilty, my lady.

CURNOW: ... lawyers argued whether it was a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the state saying, in a traumatized state of mind, he worked out this grand scheme? It doesn't make sense.

CURNOW: Or murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The accused was a deceitful witness. The court should have no difficulty in rejecting his core version of events.

CURNOW: Now the world finally has a verdict.

THOKOZILE MASIPA, JUDGE: There is a reasonable doubt concerning the accused's guilt.

CURNOW: From love to loss, a saga that unfolded for years. Now the story of Oscar Pistorius, the trial, the trouble, the verdict.

CNN SPOTLIGHT: "The Oscar Pistorius Trial."

April 2014, Oscar Pistorius on the stand, but not on camera.

PISTORIUS: I can't mention the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I have caused you and your family.

CURNOW: His first order of business, apologizing to the Steenkamp family for killing his girlfriend, Reeva.

PISTORIUS: I would look to apologize and say that there's not a moment and there hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family. CURNOW: It had been over a year since the Steenkamps lost Reeva

and it was the first time Pistorius spoke of the tragic night she died.

PISTORIUS: I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I promise that when she went to bed that night, she felt loved.

CORN: She felt loved, Pistorius said, because it had been a lovely, comfortable evening.

PISTORIUS: We ate and we sat at the dining room table for a while. And we chatted about my day and we chatted about Reeva's contract that she was in the process of signing with the new management company. And then, usually after dinner, we would have watched TV downstairs, but I think we'd both had a taxing day, and so we decided to go upstairs.

CURNOW: Pistorius testified to the judge -- there is no jury in this trial -- that he then drew the curtains and prepared for bed.

PISTORIUS: And I closed the bedroom door and I locked the bedroom door, as I do every night. I sat on the bottom right-hand side of the bed. I took my prosthetic legs off. I took them off, so that they could get air. Earlier on in the evening, when I got home, when I got upstairs, I had taken my firearm and I placed it under the bed.

CURNOW (on camera): Pistorius says that he had been a victim of burglaries, he even received death threats, that he was acutely aware of violent crime here in South Africa. He says that is why he slept with a .9-millimeter pistol under his bed.

(voice-over): Pistorius said he woke up in the early hours of the morning, and noticed his balcony door was ajar, so he got out of bed to close it.

PISTORIUS: It was at this point that I heard a window open in the bathroom. It sounded like a -- the window sliding open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you think at the time, Mr. Pistorius?

PISTORIUS: My lady, that's the moment that everything changed. I thought there was a burglar that was gaining entry into my home. I think, initially, I just froze. I didn't really know what to do.

CURNOW: Pistorius claims he was on his stumps and unstable as he walked back to the bed, reached underneath and pulled his gun out of his holster.

PISTORIUS: At that point, I just wanted to put myself between the person who had gained access to my house and Reeva. Just as I left of my bed, I whispered for Reeva to get down and phone the police.

CURNOW: He said he crept through a bathroom hallway. PISTORIUS: It was at that point that I was just overcome with

fear. And I started screaming and shouting for the burglar or the intruders to get out of my house. I shouted for Reeva to get on the floor. I shouted for her to phone the police.

CURNOW: He said he then made his way into the bathroom.

PISTORIUS: And then I heard a noise from inside the toilet that I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet. Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door.

CURNOW: According to Pistorius, he then returned to the bedroom, checked his bed and the floor, but there was no sign of Steenkamp. That's when he said he began to suspect the worst.

PISTORIUS: I shouted from the balcony for help. I screamed help, help, help. I put my prosthetic legs on. I ran as fast as I could back to the bathroom. I ran in to the door. It didn't move at all. I leaned back and I tried to kick the door, and nothing happened.

CURNOW: Pistorius said he grabbed his cricket bat.

PISTORIUS: I hit the frame of the door, and shock in my hands, so I swung again. And it hits a small piece opened. And at that point, all I wanted to do was just look inside to see if it was Reeva.

CURNOW: After hitting the door three more times, Pistorius said he removed a chunk of wood from the door and locked it from the inside and gained access to a bloody Steenkamp.

PISTORIUS: I flung the door open, and I threw it open. And I sat over Reeva and I cried. And I don't know how long -- I don't know how long I was there for. She wasn't breathing.

CURNOW: Pistorius said he picked up Steenkamp, carried her down the stairs, then sat with her.

PISTORIUS: I felt helpless. I wanted to take her to the hospital. I was -- I had my fingers in her mouth to help her to try to breathe. I had my hand on her hip. I was trying to stop the bleeding.

CURNOW: Paramedics were on the way, but it was too late.

PISTORIUS: Reeva -- Reeva had already died as I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew that there was nothing that they could do for her.

Coming up, prosecutors challenge Pistorius' story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could be ruthless and say that you lied, and now you are fixing up a lie.

CURNOW: But next, the sexy cover girl and what turned out to be a fatal attraction. (END VIDEOTAPE)



CURNOW (voice-over): Back in 2008, before there was Pistorius the Blade Runner --

PISTORIUS: Good morning.

CURNOW: -- it was Oscar, the Olympic hopeful. Just 21 years old, he invited me into the very house that five years later would become an infamous crime scene.

(on camera): Thank you.


CURNOW: So, are you ready for the Olympics? Do you think you're going to make it?

PISTORIUS: I think if I am going to make it, run the course, we're training as hard as we can.

CURNOW (voice-over): Training hard to compete against able- bodied athletes as a sprinter with no legs.

(on camera): This is your prosthetic leg?

PISTORIUS: Yes. These are the ones that I use on an everyday basis.

CURNOW: OK. So, you walk, run, go to gym?

PISTORIUS: Yes. I'm actually -- I am supposed to walk on them, but you have got a very high-performance foot, so it's not that great for walking, but it's very good for running and jogging.

CURNOW: So this is still your -- this is your own leg.



CURNOW: And this is where you had a birth deformity?


CURNOW: How old were you when you got them amputated?

PISTORIUS: I was 11 months old.

CURNOW (voice-over): Despite his vulnerability, his parents raised him to take on his life at full speed. Pistorius found a purpose on the track. He met coach Ampie Louw,

who transformed Oscar from an awkward 17-year-old schoolboy into a world- class athlete.

I talked to Louw on the track, where he spent countless hours training Pistorius.

AMPIE LOUW, TRAINER: Oscar is very strong-minded. He will even push harder than I want him to push in the last repetition of a session.

CURNOW: But Pistorius apparently had a dark side, say some. Mark Batchelor, a South African soccer player who socialized in the same circles, said Pistorius had a temper and once tried to pick a fight with him.

MARK BATCHELOR, SOCCER PLAYER: He would have a tough streak and he would get violent and angry. He would fight with people and he caused a lot of problems. And that's -- the incident with me and him was because he was drunk at a party and he starting shouting.

CURNOW: Louw admits that the athlete he sees as a son isn't perfect.

LOUW: I have been asked plenty times now the question of temper. If I said, yes, he must have, I call it temperament. If you haven't got the temperament, you cannot become a national champion or world champion. Forget it.

CURNOW (on camera): So you have got to have that fire in you?

LOUW: You must have it. Yes.

CURNOW: And that fire could mean you sometimes have a bad temper?

LOUW: When you work with any champion, any -- any distraction upsets them.

CURNOW (voice-over): He qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, where he made it to the semifinals of the 400-meters. His relay team finished last in the finals.

Next, he would shine in the Paralympics, earning three medals, two gold, one silver.

He was South Africa's golden boy and was about to meet one of South Africa's top models, Reeva Steenkamp.

She known as one of South Africa's sexiest women. This video shows Reeva posing for the cover of a monthly magazine.

Hagen Engler was the editor of South African edition.

HAGEN ENGLER, EDITOR: She had, you know, beauty and intelligence, which is the double whammy. REEVA STEENKAMP, MODEL: Hi, I'm Reeva. We're shooting this

December cover for "FHM." (OFF-MIKE) Yes, have a good Christmas and buy the issue.

ENGLER: She got the magazine cover, and that gets you noticed and that gets you a bit more commercial work, probably leads to a bit of TV work.

CURNOW: Her life was becoming more and more glamorous, going from magazine cover girl --

STEENKAMP: My name is Reeva. And I'm a model.

CURNOW: -- to starring in a reality TV series.

STEENKAMP: And it's a really, really fun production. And it's in its fourth season now. And, yes, watch this space.

CURNOW: A mutual friend would introduced the cover girl to Pistorius at a motor racing event. There, Steenkamp accepted Pistorius' invitation to accompany him that evening to the South African Sports Awards ceremony.

ANGUS HAYES, REEVA STEENKAMP'S FRIEND: In her relationship with Oscar, the impression that I got from the messages that we exchanged from our few conversations was that she was very happy.

PEET VAN ZYL, AGENT OF OSCAR PISTORIUS: She was always very friendly, always very excited to be around him and with him. She spent a lot of time at the track jogging and running to keep in shape for her -- all her modeling stuff.

CURNOW: Last year, Steenkamp was looking forward to spending Valentine's Day with Pistorius, tweeting, "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?"

South Africa's newest it couple appeared to be taking their relationship to the next level.

On the eve of Valentine's Day, a smiling Steenkamp drove through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the gated community where Oscar Pistorius lived.

PISTORIUS: Roses are red. Violets are blue.

CURNOW: With her, the Valentine's Day card that Pistorius read aloud during his last day on the stand.

PISTORIUS: "I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you."

CURNOW: A card that she would never get to give him.

PISTORIUS: And then it's -- she signed it with her name and a smiley face and some kisses.

CURNOW: By the time the sun rose on Valentine's Day, Reeva Steenkamp was dead, and Pistorius was charged with killing her.

Coming up: The prosecution goes on the attack.

GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: Say, yes, I killed -- I shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.




BARRY ROUX, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Mr. Pistorius, did you at any time intend to kill Reeva?

CURNOW (voice-over): The lawyers for Oscar Pistorius insisted her death was a mistake. On the stand at his murder trial, Pistorius broke down, insisting Reeva Steenkamp's death was a grave mistake. He thought she was an intruder.

PISTORIUS: I did not intend to kill Reeva, my lady, or anybody else, for that matter. I didn't have time to think. I discharged my firearm. I didn't shoot at anyone. I didn't intend to shoot at some one. I shot out of fear.

NEL: Mr. Pistorius, please.

CURNOW: But the prosecution told a very different story. Several neighbors testifying off camera set the stage by describing what they heard that night.

MICHELLE BURGER, NEIGHBOR: The fear in that woman's voice is difficult to explain to the court. I was traumatized to what I heard that evening, the absolute petrified screams and shouts.

CURNOW: Then Pistorius' ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor said, Pistorius feared an intruder had entered his home on another night.

SAMANTHA TAYLOR, EX-GIRLFRIEND OF OSCAR PISTORIUS: There was one occasion where something hit the bathroom window, and Oscar woke me up and asked me if I had heard it. And so he got up with his gun and he walked out of the room.

CURNOW: But that night with Reeva would be different. Pistorius fired his gun and neighbor Michelle Burger said she heard the fatal gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you perhaps give us a demonstration by using bang?

BURGER: Bang, bang, bang, bang.

CURNOW: On day four of the trial, next-door neighbor and physician Johan Stipp took the stand. Stipp was one of the first to arrive at the Pistorius home that night. JOHAN STIPP, NEIGHBOR OF PISTORIUS: I remember the first thing

he said when I got there was that: "I shot her. I thought she was a burglar, and I shot her."

CURNOW: Stipp testified that while he tended to Steenkamp's lifeless body, Pistorius was distraught and repentant.

STIPP: And he was crying. He was praying. He was talking to God, telling God to please let her live. Please don't let her die. He was making promises to God. He was trying to maybe get atonement, but was very, very distraught, severely so.

CURNOW: Stipp's account left Pistorius visibly distressed, perhaps even convulsing, according to one courtroom observer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had prepared the report.

CURNOW: The prosecution then turned to its forensic experts and evidence, first up, police Colonel J.G. Vermeulen and Pistorius' bullet-holed toilet door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were hitting from where you were standing, just hit.

CURNOW: Trying to chip away at Pistorius' turn of events, the prosecution attacks his claim that he wore his prosthetics when using a cricket bat to get to the wounded Reeva.

COL. J.G. VERMEULEN, SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE: My observation is that Mr. Pistorius was not on his legs. He was on his stumps.

CURNOW: Pistorius' blood-covered stumps, the bathroom floor and other photos were displayed in court as part of the prosecution's detailed forensic testimony. At one point, the accidental display of Steenkamp's dead body caused Pistorius to become ill. He sat with a bucket at his feet, in case he vomited.

COL. IAN VAN DER NEST, SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE: The deceased sustained wounds while being on the toilet. Three of these wounds which the deceased sustained could have resulted in severe bleeding.

CURNOW: Then a dramatic turn in the trial. Prosecutors presented text messages from Reeva to Oscar, depicting a stormy relationship.

VERMEULEN: "I just want to love and be loved, be happy and make someone so happy. Maybe you can't do that for -- maybe we can't do that for each other, because right now I know you aren't happy and I'm certainly very unhappy and sad."

CURNOW: Another message was even more chilling.

VERMEULEN: "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will act to me."

CURNOW: The defense countered by reading just some of 1,700 messages that they said were loving and affectionate.

ROUX: And the response by Reeva to Mr. Pistorius is: "OK, angel, sweetness of dreams. I will message you when I get home, cross, cross, cross."

CURNOW: And showed a video of the happy couple in a convenience store 10 days before Steenkamp was killed.

But the state's biggest opportunity came when prosecutor Gerrie Nel got his chance to confront Pistorius directly.

PISTORIUS: My mistake is that I took Reeva's life.

NEL: You killed her. You shot and killed her. Won't you take responsibility for that?

PISTORIUS: I did, my lady.

NEL: Then say it. Say, yes, I killed -- I shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.

PISTORIUS: I did, my lady.

CURNOW: Nel then played video of Pistorius at a shooting range, pointing out Oscar's apparent delight at the damage inflicted by his high-powered weapon.

PISTORIUS: It's a lot soften than brain, but (EXPLETIVE DELETED) feels like a zombie stopper.

NEL: It exploded. Am I right?

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady.

NEL: You know that the same happened to Reeva's head. It exploded.

CORN: The prosecutor, nicknamed the Bulldog, hammered Pistorius.

NEL: Mr. Pistorius, this is now the biggest indication of you tailoring evidence.

CURNOW: Gerrie Nel was relentless in his effort to poke holes in Pistorius' story.

NEL: Mr. Pistorius, you are now in the room. You shot, and she is three meters away from you behind that particular door. There is no way that you will convince a court that she stood there saying that. Why? Why would she not say a thing?

PISTORIUS: I don't know, my lady.

NEL: No, it's not true. The only reason is that it is not true, Mr. Pistorius. She would have responded.

PISTORIUS: She would have been terrified, my lady, but I don't think that would have lent her to scream out.

NEL: She wasn't scared of anything, except you. She wasn't scared of an intruder. She was scared of you.

CURNOW: Nel attacked Pistorius, saying he was lying.

NEL: Your version is not only untruthful, but it is so improbable, that it cannot be reasonably possibly true.

CORN: And insisted the Blade Runner intend to kill his girlfriend.

NEL: She locked herself into the toilet. You armed yourself for the sole purpose of shooting and killing her.

PISTORIUS: That's not true, my lady.

NEL: And that's what you did.

CORN: In closing, prosecutors said the former Olympian had dropped the baton of truth.

NEL: Without the baton of truth, you cannot complete the race. It is the state's case that the accused was a deceitful witness.

CORN: The defense reminded the court that Pistorius, who lost his legs when he was a child, suffers from anxiety and, like some abuse victims, suddenly snapped.

ROUX: we say, there he is without legs, facing the door, hearing the sound, and he fired the shots. If you are finding it, it was reasonable, you must acquit him.

CORN: And one month later, a decision from the judge that surprised many observers. Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of murder.

MASIPA: The state clearly has not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder.

CORN: But the judge did rule that Pistorius was guilty of culpable homicide, what's called manslaughter in the United States.

MASIPA: I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force. It is clear that his conduct was negligent.

CORN: What's not clear is how long Oscar Pistorius will spend in prison.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There is no mandatory minimum or maximum sentence. And that gives the judge a wide degree of latitude. Some of the previous sentences that she has handed down in cases where there were violence against women were extremely tough.

CORN: But for now, he is a free man, out on bail, cheers not for a gold medal Blade Runner, but a killer whose future lies very much in the balance.