PRETORIA, South Africa -- The air felt heavy with uncertainty. Everyone had awakened and dressed and come for the verdict. No, not that verdict.
The family and friends of the deceased, the family and friends of the accused, the security people at two courtrooms (main and overflow), the court officials, the reporters, the legal types hired by TV networks, the stenographers hired by TV networks ... The whole temporary ecosystem at an unpretentious courthouse waited for 9:30 a.m.
"Obviously things can go one of two ways," a court official said.
She said this in front of the Overflow Room, the courtroom with the three video screens and the daily sprinkling of viewers of various occupations. She said that even if Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the trial would continue on Wednesday, the Overflow Room would exist as the Overflow Room only until Friday. It had become too costly. It had become too logistically inconvenient for the courthouse caseload. On Monday, it would resume being a courtroom. As of Monday, anyone with a badge for the Overflow Room could go to the main Courtroom D. The crowds there had waned. There would be room. If not, holler.
Of course, that's if there's a trial on Monday.
Oscar Pistorius, the world-famous double amputee accused of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's morning 2013, had hurried down the sidewalk and into the courthouse at 9:02. The daily phalanx of cameras had caught this, just as they had caught it for 31 previous pressurized court days, each day just about the same scene, each day providing some sort of angle on, say, his right earlobe, each day mandatory but rote. The summertime of early March had turned to fall, and now fall is headed toward winter such that an extra blanket helps at night.
"Oscar, any comment on ..."
He hurried on in.
Past the security zone and through the metal revolving doors and into the dreary hallways, Pistorius would sit and learn whether he would undergo 30 days of psychiatric evaluation in an unforeseen delay to this 11-week-old murder trial. Given strategically jarring testimony from a psychiatrist on Monday that Pistorius suffers from "generalized anxiety disorder," and given the state's interest that the defense should not use that diagnosis for any leniency or appeal, prosecutor Gerrie Nel had applied formally on Tuesday that the court should refer Pistorius for a 30-day evaluation for clarification. Defense attorney Barry Roux had objected. Judge Masipa would rule on that at 9:30.
By 9:20, Pistorius' family members had gathered and sat in the row behind him, to the left if you faced the bench. At 9:23, victim Reeva Steenkamp's friend Kim Myers, the woman who alleged last week that Pistorius made a barbed comment toward her, entered on the right. As she and her sister edged through the row to available space, she greeted or hugged the three green-clad ladies of the African National Congress Women's League (omnipresent in a stand against domestic violence), as well as Steenkamp's mother, June. Along one row sat the two clusters of people, nine on the left in emotional support of Pistorius, eight on the right in memory of Steenkamp, all awaiting a decree that might take, what, five minutes? There was a gap between them even if they sometimes have commingled gently.
At 9:27, Pistorius sat with his hands clasped, his thumbs briefly twitching as if to wrestle each other, his eyeglasses on, his briefcase to his left. Back in the Overflow Room, speculation overflowed. If Judge Masipa ruled Pistorius referred, could defense attorney Barry Roux appeal? (No.) Who would take Pistorius to the hospital? (His legal team could, given his bail conditions.) Could he be an outpatient? (Possibly.) Why does the psychiatrist's testimony matter so much? (For one thing, she examined him first on May 2, 2014, which followed his own testimony, so potentially he could have used his meeting with her to bolster his case.)
At 9:39, Judge Masipa still had not entered, and Roux went over to chat for less than a minute with Pistorius. At 9:45, Roux came back to Pistorius for a discussion, which Pistorius' uncle Arnold Pistorius got up to join. Arnold Pistorius rubbed his chin, turned around with an indecipherable expression, went back to the row, leaned to his right and reported something to three people including Oscar Pistorius' sister, Aimee. The uncle turned to his left and talked to the relatives there.
At 9:58, everyone stood. Judge Masipa entered. "The state has launched an application for a referral of the accused for observation," she began. One day, presumably, she'll read her ultimate verdict in this live-streamed saga. This day, she would rule on Section 78, Subsection 2, as she kept saying, which can compel a court to refer a defendant to a hospital.
She quoted from the testimony of Dr. Merryll Vorster, the psychiatrist who lent the trial the late-stage question of the accused's disorder. The judge, 66, who studied law in her early 40s, and whom Nelson Mandela appointed in 1998, and who has run the trial with an air of authoritative decency, went to the water glass twice. By 10:12, she got to the decision she spent the previous night taking: "This court as a lay court is ill-equipped to deal with the issue raised by Dr. Vorster at this stage." And: "Dr. Vorster's report, however inclusive it may be, cannot replace a proper inquiry." And finally: "This is not about anyone's convenience but rather about whether justice has been served." She did agree with Roux that an outpatient assessment could work: "The aim of referral is not to punish the accused twice, so if there is a possibility of making sure that he is an outpatient, I think that would be preferable."
As of the evening of Feb. 13, 2013, the accused was a worldwide inspiration at 26. Born without fibulas, his legs amputated at 11 months, he had grown to run with carbon-fiber blades toward eight Paralympic medals and soaring participation in the 400-meter semifinals of the London Olympics. In the wee hours of Feb. 14, 2013, at his mansion in a gated community in Pretoria, he fired a 9mm pistol four times through a locked toilet door and killed his girlfriend, Steenkamp, either by intent or because he over-anxiously mistook her for an intruder.
A year passed, he went on trial beginning March 3, and the grim spectacle gained rational comparison to the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995. That trial in Los Angeles took 36 weeks. This trial would not. Only now it will take much longer than 17 days (the first guess), or four weeks (the second), or 11 weeks (the third). Only now the "Blade Runner" heads for 30 days of psychiatric evaluation, perhaps outpatient. Only now the unforeseeable keeps on being unforeseeable.