PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year, marking the start of the Olympian’s murder trial that had South Africans watching live broadcasting of the proceedings against their country’s most famous living citizen.
The trial started 90 minutes late with Pistorius pleading not guilty to all four charges against him: murder, two charges relating to discharge of firearm in a public place and one charge of illegal possession of ammunition. Before the trial started he walked past the victim’s mother who says she came to court so she can “really look him in the eyes.”
The double-amputee athlete is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, thinking she was an intruder inside his bathroom.
Steenkamp’s mother, June, earlier entered the court dressed in black. She was quoted in the Pretoria News, which published an interview she gave to a British newspaper, saying that she wants to see Pistorius.
“I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva,” said June Steenkamp, 67. “Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him … But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me. I feel I need that.”
Pistorius arrived at the high court in Pretoria wearing a dark gray suit and black tie. June Steenkamp was seated on the same bench as Pistorius’ family, and behind Pistorius so there is a possibility that their eyes will lock during the trial.
The delay was caused by a problem with one of the Afrikaans language interpreters, the court official said. Also, a woman attempted to intervene in the court proceedings saying she knew Pistorius’ late mother, Sheila, and had knowledge of Pistorius’ character. The woman said she wanted to speak to the judge, but was escorted out of court by officials and two policemen.
Earlier, a drone carrying cameras flew over the entrance to the courthouse in gray, drizzly skies. Several broadcasters massed live broadcast satellite trucks around the courthouse. A 24-hour cable channel devoted to covering the trial was launched in South Africa on Sunday.
Prosecutors charged Pistorius, 27, with murder and say it was with premeditation. They say they will seek a life sentence if Pistorius is convicted. South Africa has no death penalty.
If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa.
The state says Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp by shooting her through a toilet door after an argument. Pistorius denies murder and says he killed his girlfriend by mistake when he fired four times through the door thinking there was a dangerous nighttime intruder on the other side.
A lesser sentence is possible if Pistorius is found guilty of murder but without premeditation. He also could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter in which someone is killed through negligence.
Pistorius also faces a second charge of illegal possession of ammunition for bullets found at his Pretoria house that he allegedly didn’t have proper licensing for. Prosecutors say he also will be indicted Monday with two more gun charges relating to him allegedly shooting in public on two separate occasions before Steenkamp’s killing.
The gun charges reportedly relate to him allegedly shooting out the sunroof of a car in one incident and another when he allegedly fired a gun inside a restaurant, apparently by mistake.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, hearing the biggest trial of her career, will ultimately pronounce the champion runner innocent or guilty and will decide on any sentence. South Africa has no trial by jury.
Parts of the trial will be broadcast on live television, both in South Africa and across the world.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP