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updated: 3/26/2014 5:33 PM

Pistorius defense starts with Paralympian prepared to take stand

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  • Oscar Pistorius reacts in the dock during cross questioning on mobile phone text messages between him and Reeva Steenkamp in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Pistorius is charged with the Valentines Day 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

      Oscar Pistorius reacts in the dock during cross questioning on mobile phone text messages between him and Reeva Steenkamp in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Pistorius is charged with the Valentines Day 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

 
Bloomberg

Oscar Pistorius's defense starts calling witnesses in his murder trial Thursday, paving the way for the paralympian gold medalist to testify about why he killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

"Of course, he is likely to testify," Brian Webber, a lawyer on Pistorius's legal team at Ramsey Webber Inc. in Johannesburg, said by phone Tuesday.

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The trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa's capital, will resume after the prosecution rested its case two days ago. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year, and three gun-related charges. He says he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot her through a locked toilet cubicle door in his bathroom.

South Africa's Criminal Procedure Act requires that the accused who chooses to take the stand do so at the beginning of the defense's case unless the court finds a compelling reason not to do so, Marius du Toit, a criminal defense lawyer in Pretoria who served as a magistrate in South Africa's North West and Northern Cape provinces, said yesterday by e-mail.

"Oscar's testimony will be crucial," Du Toit said. "There aren't many holes on the prosecution's case."

Pistorius may go to jail even if judge Thokozile Masipa believes the paralympian's version of the events that led to Steenkamp's death, Du Toit said by phone. Masipa will give a final judgment because South Africa doesn't have a jury system.

A possible lesser conviction of culpable homicide could carry a minimum sentence of five years, Du Toit said. Pistorius may be sentenced to as much as life imprisonment if found guilty of premeditated murder, he said.

The prosecution has sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed and reckless with weapons and having a quick temper. Witnesses testified how he shot through the sunroof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant.

The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J- shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($94,000) bail since February last year.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called neighbors of Pistorius in the Silver Woods Country Estate gated community where he lived in Pretoria who testified that they heard a woman's screams and gunshots shortly after 3 a.m. local time.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux asked to consult for the past two days with some witnesses who were on the prosecution's witness list but weren't called to testify. The list includes Pistorius's uncle, Arnold, his brother Carl and sister Aimee.

Paul O'Sullivan, a private forensic investigator in Johannesburg, said the state will continue to make "80 percent" of its case when the defense calls witnesses.

The state prosecutor "discharged his responsibility in putting the necessary facts before the court," O'Sullivan said by phone yesterday. Nel will "invite the court to draw the necessary conclusions from the defense's case."

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