Oscar Pistorius murder trial extended to mid-May

Posted at 1:18 PM, Mar 23, 2014

(CNN) — The murder trial of “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius will now continue until the middle of May, the South African court hearing the case said Sunday.

The trial, which enters its fourth week on Monday, will continue until April 4, then break for a one-week recess before resuming from April 14 until May 16, the Pretoria court announced in a written statement. It said “all parties involved” had agreed to the dates.

Pistorius, 27, admits firing the shots that killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year but has pleaded not guilty to murder, saying he thought she was a burglar and he believed he was acting in self-defense.

He fired four shots through the door to the toilet room in his house in the middle of the night, probably killing Steenkmap almost instantly with the shot to the head, according to the autopsy.

The trial began on March 3. After 13 days of hearings, the court has heard only 18 witnesses out of a potential 107.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel announced unexpectedly on Wednesday that the prosecution expects to rest early next week. Nel has only four or five more witnesses to call, he declared to the shock of the courtroom just before lunch on the 13th day of the trial.

He requested and got an adjournment until Monday to consider the state’s position in the case. The surprise move prompted questions about whether Nel was thinking about throwing in the towel, whether he had surprise new evidence to study, or whether the state’s case was simply running ahead of schedule.

Intense media interest

Almost the entire trial has been televised, though individual witnesses can choose not to be shown on television.

There has been intense media interest in the case in South Africa and beyond. Pistorius first achieved global fame as an outstanding double amputee sprinter who ran with special prostheses that earned him the nickname “Blade Runner.”

Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide the verdict with the help of two lay people called assessors. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each of two unrelated gun indictments and 15 years for a firearms charge he also faces.

If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence.

The sentence for culpable homicide is at the judge’s discretion.

Last week Pistorius said he would sell his home to fund legal costs. The house is where Steenkamp was shot dead. Pistorius hasn’t returned since her death, according to a statement on his website.

CNN’s Kim Noorgard and Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.