PRETORIA, South Africa -- A murder trial is not a show, but it can devolve into a game, and this game has gone astray. It has contorted from previous shape unforeseeably just as it neared its alleged conclusion. We all know games do this, but that doesn't seem to diminish the surprise.
It's attorney versus attorney, as if you needed to know that, and one attorney says the other is behind while the other attorney says one is behind, as if you need to know that. The upshot, implausibly: By Wednesday morning Pretoria time (six hours ahead of New York), we'll know whether the Oscar Pistorius trial will adjourn for 30 days while the court refers the accused to a mental hospital for evaluation.
That was a passage that did not come up in the previews back on March 3, when viewers around the world got going in earnest, wondering whether one of the world's most inspiring athletes, a double amputee and worthy Olympic participant, had killed his girlfriend by mistake or by intent.
As of Tuesday afternoon, just down Madiba Street from the courthouse, a table for seven at TriBeCa café included defense attorney Barry Roux and teammates. They were either having lunch or huddling for lunch, depending on how far you wish to go with the lame analogies.
To decipher the back-and-forth between Roux and prosecutor Gerrie Nel: The game began 70 calendar days and 31 court days ago. People said it would end on March 20. It didn't. People said it would end on April 4. It didn't. People said it would end on May 16. It almost certainly won't, even though Roux last Tuesday forecasted completion of defense by this Tuesday.
To most observers lingering around the courthouse for longer than they expected, it seems Nel assumed a huge lead through the early months, which might not have been evident to those studying Roux's confident body language, even though it's untrue that Roux took acting lessons before the trial. (He has considerable experience.) Nel greeted defense witness after defense witness with a capacity to make them state some agreement with the state's case. By Monday, Roux showed a twinge -- or maybe a shout -- of desperation.
He called to the stand Dr. Merryll Vorster, a deeply impressive forensic psychiatrist who asked not to appear on TV, perhaps costing herself a future TV series. For the first time in all the testimony of all the days in court, there came the introduction of the possibility of a chronic psychological condition affecting Pistorius, the double amputee and Paralympic gold medalist who grew to race to the 400-meter semifinals in an able-bodied Olympics. Vorster said it stemmed in large part from a less-than-ideal childhood, which she outlined rather graphically.
The court soon became familiar with "generalized anxiety disorder," Vorster's diagnosis of Pistorius, to the point Nel took to calling it "G.A.D."
The term "G.A.D." flew around.
Seeing a desperate defense ploy to soften an impending sentence, Nel yanked out his own tactic, claiming that by South African statute, the introduction of the possibility of a psychological condition meant Pistorius would have to be referred for evaluation. Roux looked at the books and disagreed. Nel looked at the books and disagreed back. Roux looked at the books and disagreed back.
Pistorius himself spoke to the BBC's Andrew Harding and called Nel's approach a "joke," which did seem to indicate clarity of mind. The disagreement bled into Tuesday, when Nel submitted his application that Pistorius should go off for 30 days of testing. The lawyers seemed to spar in the verbal area between the definitions of "disorder" and "illness." At one point Vorster, near the end of her testimony, said the word "ill" before correcting herself to "disorder."
"I like 'ill,'" Nel quipped.
The day wended from there to a fine cattiness, the game on. Roux: "My lady, I say to you with great deference that Mr. Nel's reading of the law reports is rather unfortunate." Nel: "One thing I would agree with Mr. Roux is that we should not be emotional," saying he himself would have ended up emotional "if I called a witness and that witness left open the door for the referral of my client. That's what happened."
Here came another day when Judge Thokozile Masipa would seem underpaid, whatever her salary. With South Africa's first globally televised trial, her tasks include upholding the image of the South African court system. That's logically ludicrous except we're a ludicrous world. She adjourned the court just before 1 p.m., saying she would spend the night formulating her ruling on the matter.
If she errs toward caution, the "Blade Runner" will err into 30 unexpected days at the hospital. That's how much the game has ground itself into tangent, and that's how much the game has taken over. In the designated Overflow Room just a few paces down the hall from the courtroom, with its three video screens and its freedom to speak aloud, the opinions flowed, as they do about games. That's always a good time to reiterate that everyone is here because of something relentlessly horrible.