Michael Steele/Getty Images
Michael Steele/Getty Images
What happens to Oscar Pistorius now?
The Paralympic champion and world-famous athlete was charged today with murdering his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted. She was found shot to death at Pistorius' home in Pretoria, South Africa—and, judging by reactions from around the globe, the rabid fascination with this case isn't going away anytime soon.
"In an instance like this, I think that the matter would be brought to trial with a limited investigation and they would protect the hearing of the matter because there will be huge public interest in this because he is a celebrity," South Africian criminal defense attorney and law professor Billy Gundelfinger tells E! News.
"I would imagine the matter would be brought to trial very rapidly," says Gundelfinger, who is not representing Pistorius. "It is also important. not for the accused, but for the family" of the victim.
A bail hearing has been set for tomorrow and he imagines that, if Pistorius is granted bail, it will be a "substantial" amount.
"They could come to an arrangement before the hearing on the terms and, if the state accepts it, they will agree to the bail and the amount," Gundelfinger explains. "There will be bail conditions if that is acceptable to the presiding officer...like he surrenders his passport and checks in or reports to police regularly."
It's hard to predict what will happen without knowing all the facts, he says, but whether he gets bail will depend on multiple factors, including whether he's deemed a flight risk—and that's where Pistorius' celebrity could help him.
"In this particular instance," Gundelfinger says, "he is very recognizable...It is unlikely he would be a flight risk but in view of the seriousness of the crime the presiding officer, probably a magistrate would have to determine whether he should get bail or be refused bail."
If Pistorius is refused bail, his lawyers can appeal the decision to a higher court, Gundelfinger says.
Unlike in the United States, South Africa does not have an arraignment process or pretrial hearings, and Pistorius would first enter his plea at trial.
"Normally what delays the trial is an investigation," Gundelfinger says. "I would imagine, from what I hear, the investigation doesn't sound like it is complicated or will be drawn out. There are very limited witnesses in something like this.
Assuming that the case is circumstantial at this point, Gundelfinger says investigators will be looking into what the responding officers saw at his house, whether or the neighbors heard any shouting or fighting before Steenkamp died, whether the weapon used to kill her was registered to Pistorius and ballistic evidence.
"They would test his hands for fingerprints on the gun and gunshot residue," he adds.
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Asked about reports that Pistorius was taken to a hospital this morning for blood tests, Gundelfinger says that isn't necessarily procedure, it depends on the circumstances, but the 26-year-old runner may have been sick or injured, or authorities wanted to test his blood-alcohol content if they suspected drinking or drugs were involved.
And, presuming this case goes to trial, is Pistorius expected to assemble a so-called legal dream team to defend him?
"I would imagine [Pistorius] would have, at a minimum, a very experienced senior attorney and a senior and junior counsel," or advocates, Gundelfinger says."They both work together to put the case together, plan cross-examination, strategize and work as a team to see you are covering all the bases."
A lawyer normally needs to practice at least 20 years before he or she can even apply to become a senior counsel, he adds.
"In the system, an attorney and advocate will work as a team on the case," he continues. "The attorney decides which advocate [to bring on board] and they work as a team. The advocates are very specialized and deal in criminal work, divorce or commercial or personal injury law. The attorneys are typically general practicioners."
In South Africa, he says, a magistrate is the prosecuting authority, like a district attorney in America, and senior and junior advocates try the case.
If Pistorius pleads not guilty, "the onus is on the state to prove the case against him," Gundelfinger says. "At the end of the state's case, if they had not provided sufficient evidence he could ask for the case to be discharged."
And, if he were to plead guilty, then the defense would provide evidence to mitigate the sentence coming his way. "The prosecution would present evidence of aggravation of the sentence and afterwards he would be sentenced," the lawyer says.
If Pistorius is convicted, prosecutors would be free to bring up the athlete's history with guns, past domestic complaints and other incidents that could indicate a pattern of behavior during the sentencing portion of the proceedings, says Gundelfinger.
Regardless of what happens, "This is a tragic finish to an icon's race to transcend adversity," he says.