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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has been delayed until April 7 because one of the legal experts who will assist the judge in reaching a verdict is sick, abruptly ending expectations Friday that the double-amputee athlete was about to testify on his fatal shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
 
Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the delay in court on the day Pistorius' defense lawyers were due to begin presenting their case after four weeks of prosecution-led testimony and a two-day adjournment.
 
"One of my assessors is not well, so this court is not properly constituted," Masipa said. "I suggest that we postpone this matter until the seventh of April."
 
Masipa has two assessors who sit on either side of her in the Pretoria courtroom. South Africa does not have a jury system, and Masipa will deliver a verdict with help from the two assessors, who have limited roles in the day-to-day court proceedings but are there to help Masipa reach a decision.
 
Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder for killing Steenkamp, and also could be sent to prison for years if convicted of murder without premeditation or negligent killing.
 
Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, mistaking her for an intruder in his home and opening fire through a closed toilet door in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Prosecutors say he killed her after a Valentine's Day argument. The world-famous athlete pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and also not guilty to three other firearm-related counts.
 
After prosecutors wrapped up their case against the Olympian this week, one of the defense lawyers said Pistorius would likely testify.
 
Legal experts say Pistorius, 27, is expected to testify because he has admitted killing Steenkamp, 29, and must explain to the court why so it can take his version into account. It's common in South Africa for the defendant to be the first person the defense calls, the experts said, unless there are exceptional reasons why another witness should testify ahead of him.
 
When Pistorius testifies he would also open himself up to cross-examination and likely uncomfortable questions from chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
Published in National News
   PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - Oscar Pistorius has entered a courtroom in South Africa for the start of his murder trial, walking past the mother of the woman he shot and killed a year ago.
   The double-amputee Olympic athlete arrived in the courtroom at the high court in Pretoria wearing a dark gray suit and black tie. He sat and drank from a bottle of water.
   Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year.
   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.
   
Published in National News

   JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The man accused of faking sign interpretation next to world leaders at Nelson Mandela's memorial told a local newspaper that he was hallucinating and hearing voices.

   Thamsanqa Jantjie did describe his qualifications for being a sign language interpreter, but told The Star he works for an interpreting company that paid him $85 for interpreting Tuesday's event. He told Radio 702 Thursday he's receiving treatment for schizophrenia and had an episode while on stage.

   Jantjie did not address allegations by sign language experts that he faked interpretation for the Mandela memorial attended by scores of world leaders and broadcast internationally.

   The Star quoted him as saying: "I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it's the situation I found myself in."

Published in National News
Thursday, 05 December 2013 16:19

Nelson Mandela, dead at 95

ABC News - Nelson Mandela, the former South African president whose stubborn defiance survived 27 years in prison and led to the dismantling of the country's racist and brutal apartheid system, has died. Mandela was 95 years old.

South Africa's president says Nelson Mandela has died at age 95. Jacob Zuma says "We've lost our greatest son," South African President Jacob Zuma said in announcing Mandela's death.

Mandela had a number of issues with his health in recent years including repeated hospitalizations with a chronic lung infection. Mandela had been listed in "serious but stable condition" after entering the hospital in June before returning to home to receive continued medical care.

In April, Mandela spent 18 days in the hospital due to a lung infection and was treated for gall stones in December 2012.

Mandela's public appearances had become increasingly rare as he dealt with his declining health.

His last public appearance was in July of 2010, when he attended the final match and closing ceremonies of the soccer World Cup held in South Africa.

In 2011, Mandela met privately with Michelle Obama when the first lady and her daughters traveled to South Africa.

 

Mandela and the Legacy He Leaves Behind

One of the giants of the 20th century, Mandela's career was marked not only by his heroic resistance to racism, but also by his poised and soft spoken demeanor.

After enduring nearly three decades of prison, much of it at hard labor in a lime quarry, Mandela emerged as a gentle leader who became South Africa's first black president. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in ending apartheid without violence, and later became a global statesman who inspired millions people around the world.

Mandela was born in 1918, the son of a tribal leader, in a remote village in South Africa.

His tribal name, Rolihlahla, meant "troublemaker," a moniker Mandela would more than live up to in his lifetime.

In 1952, he emerged onto the national stage when he helped organize the first country-wide protests called the Defiance Campaign. That same year he opened the country's first black law firm.

Ruth Mopati, his secretary at the firm, wrote about the way he was then in the book "Mandela," saying, "He was able to relate to people with respect and therefore he was respected in return."

While Mandela's party, the African National Congress, had always been dedicated to non-violence, in 1960 the ANC was banned to prevent further protests after police shot dead 69 black protestors in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre.

The events radicalized the organization and led to the creation of the ANC military wing, for which Mandela became its first commander in 1961.

In 1962, Mandela was sent to prison on a charge of inciting a strike.

"At 1:30 in the morning, on March 30, I was awakened by sharp, unfriendly knocks at my door, the unmistakable signature of the police. 'The time has come,' I said to myself as I opened the door to find half a dozen armed security policemen," Mandela said.

Two years later, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the white government. Much of the next 27 years in prison were spent in the infamous Robben Island prison where he did hard labor in a lime quarry.

During his nearly three decades behind bars, Mandela would become a myth. The government even banned any use of Mandela's image or words, leaving a whole generation to grow up knowing little about the world's most famous political prisoner.

Published in National News
Monday, 19 August 2013 03:29

Oscar Pistorius indicted on murder charge

   PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - Oscar Pistorius has been indicted on charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition for the shooting death of the double-amputee Olympian's girlfriend on Valentine's Day.

   A Pretoria court on Monday set March 3 as the trial date for Pistorius, who says he shot Reeva Steenkamp by mistake, believing she was an intruder in his home. Prosecutors say he killed her after an argument. The prosecution submitted a list of more than 100 witnesses.

   Pistorius was in court for the indictment, and was seen crying and holding hands with his siblings before proceedings started.

   He faces a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.

   

Published in National News

     Former South African President Nelson Mandela was admitted to the hospital late Wednesday due to his recurring lung infection, the South African President's office today.

     "Doctors are attending to him, ensuring that he has the best possible expert medical treatment and comfort," the government's statement said.

     Mandela, 94, spent 18 days in the hospital in December for a lung infection and gallstones.

     "We appeal to the people of South Africa and the world to pray for our beloved Madiba and his family and to keep them in their thoughts. We have full confidence in the medical team and know that they will do everything possible to ensure recovery," South African President Jacob Zuma said in the statement.

     The anti-Apartheid activist was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on March 10 for routine medical tests and to "manage existing conditions in line with his age," a spokesman for the South African President's office said.

     Despite rare public appearances, Mandela, who is credited with changing race relations in South Africa, remains hugely popular in the country.

     In November 2012, banknotes featuring Mandela's image were printed and entered into circulation in South Africa.

     After enduring nearly three decades of prison, much of it at hard labor in a lime quarry, Mandela emerged as a gentle leader who was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.

 

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in ending apartheid without violence, and later became a global statesman who inspired millions people around the world.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 01:27

EXPERTS: Pistorius violated basic firearms rules

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Even if Oscar Pistorius is acquitted of murder, firearms and legal experts in South Africa believe that, by his own account, the star athlete violated basic gun-handling regulations and exposed himself to a homicide charge by shooting into a closed door without knowing who was behind it.

Particularly jarring for firearms instructors and legal experts is that Pistorius testified that he shot at a closed toilet door, fearing but not knowing for certain that a nighttime intruder was on the other side. Instead of an intruder, Pistorius' girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was in the toilet cubicle. Struck by three of four shots that Pistorius fired from a 9 mm pistol, she died within minutes. Prosecutors charged Pistorius with premeditated murder, saying the shooting followed an argument between the two. Pistorius said it was an accident.

South Africa has stringent laws regulating the use of lethal force for self-protection. In order to get a permit to own a firearm, applicants must not only know those rules but must demonstrate proficiency with the weapon and knowledge of its safe handling, making it far tougher to legally own a gun in South Africa than many other countries where a mere background check suffices.

Pistorius took such a competency test for his 9 mm pistol and passed it, according to the South African Police Service's National Firearms Center. Pistorius' license for the 9 mm pistol was issued in September 2010. The Olympic athlete and Paralympic medalist should have known that firing blindly, instead of at a clearly identified target, violates basic gun-handling rules, firearms and legal experts said.

"You can't shoot through a closed door," said Andre Pretorius, president of the Professional Firearm Trainers Council, a regulatory body for South African firearms instructors. "People who own guns and have been through the training, they know that shooting through a door is not going to go through South African law as an accident."

"There is no situation in South Africa that allows a person to shoot at a threat that is not identified," Pretorius added. "Firing multiple shots, it makes it that much worse. ...It could have been a minor — a 15-year-old kid, a 12-year-old kid — breaking in to get food."

The Pistorius family, through Arnold Pistorius, uncle of the runner, has said it is confident that the evidence will prove that Steenkamp's death in the predawn hours of Feb. 14 was "a terrible and tragic accident."

In an affidavit to the magistrate who last Friday freed him on bail, Pistorius said he believed an intruder or intruders had gotten into his US$560,000 (€430,000) two-story house, in a guarded and gated community with walls topped by electrified fencing east of the capital, Pretoria, and were inside the toilet cubicle in his bathroom. Believing he and Steenkamp "would be in grave danger" if they came out, "I fired shots at the toilet door" with the pistol that he slept with under his bed, he testified.

Criminal law experts said that even if the prosecution fails to prove premeditated murder, firing several shots through a closed door could bring a conviction for the lesser but still serious charge of culpable homicide, a South African equivalent of manslaughter covering unintentional deaths through negligence.

Johannesburg attorney Martin Hood, who specializes in firearm law, said South African legislation allows gun owners to use lethal force only if they believe they are facing an immediate, serious and direct attack or threat of attack that could either be deadly or cause grievous injury.

According to Pistorius' own sworn statement read in court, he "did not meet those criteria," said Hood, who is also the spokesman for the South African Gun Owners' Association.

"If he fired through a closed door, there was no threat to him. It's as simple as that," he added. "He can't prove an attack on his life ... In my opinion, at the very least, he is guilty of culpable homicide."

The Associated Press emailed a request for comment to Vuma, a South African reputation management firm hired by the Pistorius family to handle media questions about the shooting.

The firm replied: "Due to the legal sensitivities around the matter, we cannot at this stage answer any of your questions as it might have legal implications for a case that still has to be tried in a court of law." Vuma said on Monday it referred the AP's questions to Pistorius' legal team, which by Tuesday had not replied.

Culpable homicide covers unintentional deaths ranging from accidents with no negligence, like a motorist whose brakes fail, killing another road user, "to where it verges on murder or where it almost becomes intentional," said Hood. Sentences — ranging from fines to prison — are left to courts to determine and are not set by fixed guidelines.

The tough standards for legally acquiring a gun were instituted in part because of a wave of weapons purchases after the end of racist white rule in 1994, said Rick De Caris, a former legal director in the South African police. Under South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime, gun owners often learned how to handle firearms during military service. Many of the new gun owners had little or no firearms training, which brought tragic results, De Caris said.

"People were literally shooting themselves when cleaning a firearm," said De Caris, who helped draft the Firearms Control Act of 2000.

Prospective gun owners must now take written exams that include questions on the law, have to show they can safely handle and shoot a gun and are required to hit a target the size of a glossy magazine in 10 of 10 shots from seven meters (23 feet), said Pretorius of the Professional Firearm Trainers Council.

In his affidavit, Pistorius said he wasn't wearing his prosthetic limbs "and felt extremely vulnerable" after hearing noise from the toilet.

"I grabbed my 9 mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom, I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch-dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed," he testified.

Legal experts said they are puzzled why Pistorius apparently didn't first fire a warning shot to show the supposed intruder he was armed. Also unanswered is why, after he heard noise in his bathroom that includes the toilet cubicle, Pistorius still went toward the bathroom — toward the perceived danger — rather than retreat back into his bedroom.

"He should have tried to get out of the situation," said Hood, the attorney.
Published in National News
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - South African police say the lead investigator in the case against Olympian Oscar Pistorius faces attempted murder charges in an October 2011 shooting.

Police Brig. Neville Malila said Thursday that detective Hilton Botha is scheduled to appear in court in May on seven counts of attempted murder. Malila says Botha and two other police officers fired shots while trying to stop a mini-van in the incident.

On Wednesday, the prosecution case against Pistorius began to unravel with revelations of a series of police blunders and Botha's admission that authorities have no evidence challenging the double-amputee Olympian's claim he killed his girlfriend accidentally. Pistorius faces a charge of premeditated murder.
Published in National News
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - Police say they found two boxes of testosterone and needles in the bedroom of Oscar Pistorius, the Olympian who has been charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend.

Detective Hilton Botha made the revelation Wednesday in testimony at the bail hearing for the athlete charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The discovery raises the possibility that the double-amputee Olympian and Paralympian might have been using performance-enhancing substances.

Pistorius became the first Paralympian runner to compete at the Olympic Games in London last year.

Pistorius, 26, has insisted he shot the 29 year old Steenkamp by mistake, fearing there was an intruder in his gated and guarded luxury complex in the capital, Pretoria.
Published in National News
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - A South African prosecutor charges Olympian Oscar Pistorius with the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend.

The prosecutor said Tuesday that Pistorius shot 29 year old Reeva Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door of his home in a guarded and gated complex in the South African capital, Pretoria. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court the door had been broken open.

The family of the 26 year old Paralympian and Olympic athlete says police evidence will show there should be no murder charge in the Valentine's Day shooting.

Pistorius, in a gray suit, blue shirt and tie appeared grim and solemn in court. He nodded after the chief magistrate asked if he was well.
Published in National News
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