PRETORIA, South Africa -- Every aspect of Courtroom D, from the dreary lighting to the simple-paneled walls to the mineral-fiber ceiling boards to the hard wooden benches to the forensics-lecture feel of Thursday, seems to whisper something worth stating:
This is not a show. It may have appeared on TV and live streaming across the world as would a show. Entrenched observers may say it's in its "home stretch" as one might say of a show. It may rivet millions as does a show. It's not a show.
There's nothing showy about it. From the sidewalk on Madiba Street where citizens wait at bus stops, it's barely 20 paces all told through the lobby security, to the right and barely down a hallway that clearly has never attempted any opulence. More surprising to a first-time visitor might be the coziness. Even when half-empty as on Thursday afternoon, the room just feels smaller than it looked from afar. All of these people with so much heartache seem almost bunched together.
Pistorius, the world-famous defendant and double-amputee runner who in February 2013 shot to death his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp either by intent (the state's claim) or accident (his claim), wouldn't even have to shout across the smallish room to address Kim Myers. She's the Steenkamp friend and daily court presence who on Tuesday claimed he leaned in and muttered a barb to her -- "How can you sleep at night?" -- while Pistorius denied saying anything. If she's right, it should worsen public opinion toward him. If he's right, it's a bizarre twist in the two-month path. Either way, it's hard to believe such fogginess could emanate from a room this snug.
Further to the right facing the judge on Thursday sat two members of the African National Congress Women's League, which has appeared in support of Steenkamp's mother, June. Further to the right from them sat June Steenkamp, the whole non-show just about impossible to comprehend.
On the walls are paper signs reading, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOUR BELONGINGS/THIS OFFICE WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY LOSSES, and NO PHOTOGRAPHS/NO VIDEO/NO AUDIO, and SWITCH MOBILES OFF/SKAKEL SELFONE AF (the latter in Afrikaans). A video screen carries a perpetual message: GAUTENG NORTH HIGH COURT/CASE NUMBER CS 113/13/BOSCHKOP CAS 110/02/2013. Beneath that script, a little image of South Africa's flag flutters. On the right of the courtroom still stands the replica of the Pistorius mansion toilet door, with markers for the spots through which the Paralympic champion and Olympic participant shot four times, hitting his girlfriend thrice.
A block away, people lounged under great sunshine in Church Square, its edges turned to dirt roads by ongoing construction. Even after a 20-minute walk through town, Madiba Street, the street of the courthouse, named for Nelson Mandela, brings the first mention or awareness of Pistorius. A woman in a BBC van seems to be ordering lunch -- "The fourth one is smoked chicken wrapped with pineapple" -- and the sidewalks fill with people carrying sheafs of legal papers, the occasional lawyer in the distinctive suit now recognizable even to foreigners. A small and elevated media-tent compound sits next to the post office across from the courthouse. An old man walks by blabbering in Afrikaans something up toward the media about Pistorius. Flyers on posts advertise candidates from Wednesday's national election ("Son of the People" ... "Only Socialism Means Freedom") and things that have nothing to do with Wednesday's national election ("Lost Lover Specialist ... 100 percent guarantee").
If you frequent stadiums or arenas rather than courtrooms, you might have wondered why the trial sessions don't seem to go on for very long, why they halt for tea breaks and adjourn at times such as 3 p.m., as on Thursday. Wonder no more. Simply concentrating on these testimonies can leave the brain exhausted.
On Thursday, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, who will decide the verdict in a country without juries, heard three defense witnesses. The first opined about the contents of Steenkamp's stomach on the night of her death, allowing the possibility of a slowness of digestion that could jibe with Pistorius' account of the night. The second, a social worker, recalled finding Pistorius in inconsolable anguish when she met with him in a police cell one day after the shooting, and said she had volunteered to witness out of her dismay at spurious accounts of Pistorius having taken pre-trial acting lessons. The third, a ballistics expert, stood through the mid-afternoon hour, defense attorney Barry Roux interrupting occasionally and gently with questions.
"This magazine can be loaded with 17 rounds of nine millimeters by 19 millimeters" ... "It's not an automatic firearm, it's a self-loading firearm, so you must each time leave the trigger and pull the trigger again" ... "You can infer that the right upper arm of the deceased was six to 20 centimeters from the door when entered, My Lady" ... "It is not possible to determine with accuracy the sequence of the shots and the body position of the deceased" ...
A closing hour of this seemed much longer and more horrible than an hour. Pistorius' face remained buried. After adjournment came and everyone stood and Judge Masipa haltingly exited, Pistorius remained in that posture, his sister Aimee standing over him and stroking his left shoulder. Soon he got up and walked the long way around to the front to converse for a few minutes with a security guard. Then he turned around and took the same backroom exit as most everyone else, past about 15 remaining reporters and other attendees, most still seated and hardly anyone noticing. It's not a show.