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Oscar Pistorius trial enters popular culture

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Children chatter about the Oscar Pistorius murder trial at South African schools, startling parents with details about how the athlete fatally shot his girlfriend. Big audiences in South Africa are watching a 24-hour television channel dedicated to coverage of the sensational trial. Turns of phrase from the courtroom - the defense lawyer's "I put it to you" challenge to prosecution witnesses - are creeping into popular culture.

The rise and fall of the double-amputee runner, who competed in the London Olympics in 2012 and then killed model Reeva Steenkamp less than a year after that inspirational triumph, is a consuming saga for South Africans that has drawn sheepish comparisons to reality television shows. The more people hear, the hungrier they are for more.

Was Oscar on his stumps or wearing prosthetic limbs when he battered the toilet door with a cricket bat? Does he scream like a woman, as the defense suggests, or did neighbors indeed hear a woman's screams on the night of the killing? Will apparent missteps by police investigators muddy the prosecution's case? Did Pistorius vomit during graphic testimony about Steenkamp's wounds because of anguish, or was he trying to curry sympathy with the impassive judge?

Some people turn up their noses at the spectacle, then dive into television or social media to soak up the latest, often extraordinary revelations. The parade of witnesses, some shown in the televised proceedings and some concealed from TV viewers to respect their privacy, gives a glimpse into rich, diverse, flawed and accomplished lives, swept into a single narrative from previously anonymous routines.

Prof. Gert Saayman, the pathologist, described Steenkamp's wounds and the general impact of gunshots on flesh and bone in metaphor-studded monologues so precise and structured that they were almost lyrical, the macabre contents notwithstanding. Here was a man, clinical and courtly, who had conducted between 10,000 and 15,000 autopsies over the decades.

"Death is effectively a process rather than an event, and may take some minutes for it to come to its conclusion at a physiological level," he said.

Saayman was followed by witness Darren Fresco, who dropped an expletive while recounting alleged gunplay involving Pistorius, his onetime friend, in the months before the runner shot his girlfriend. Fresco seemed miffed at the defense's suggestion that he was wearing tracksuit pants in the middle of summer, rather than shorts as he claims, during a 2012 incident in which a gun went off in a Johannesburg restaurant.

"If It's got Wheels or a Skirt it's Gonna Cost You Money," reads the caption on Fresco's Twitter feed. Fast-living image aside, he aptly summarized the intense media coverage, saying it seemed to be everywhere: "It doesn't matter where you look, where you turn, where you go, what you listen to, what you watch."

Later came the police investigators, cast by defense lawyer Barry Roux as bumblers reminiscent of the "Keystone Cops" characters from the old silent movies. Col. Johannes Vermeulen squatted awkwardly as he sought to show that Pistorius was not wearing prostheses when he hit the toilet door with a cricket bat, based on the policeman's analysis of marks in the wood.

"I'm not standing on my knees when I'm washing the dishes," Vermeulen said to emphasize his point.

"Maybe if you're scared of your wife, you can do that," Roux replied, briefly lightening the somber mood.

Pistorius said he hit the door with the bat after realizing he had shot Steenkamp by mistake, fearing she was an intruder. Prosecutors say he killed her after an argument.

South Africans are increasingly captivated by Roux's relentless cross-examination. A producer at the Highveld Stereo radio station recorded a parody rap song. Lyrics include: "I put it to you/that it is true/everything you say/I will misconstrue/I'm Barry Roux/And I put it to you/Ten times in a row/Just to confuse you."

The 2-week-old trial is expected to run into April. One commentator said it is even interfering with South African democracy ahead of elections on May 7.

"The trial will peak at the same time as the election campaign swings into high gear, which means political parties will have to take extraordinary measures to hold the voters' attention," Ranjeni Munusamy wrote in the Daily Maverick, an online news outlet.

The role of Jaco van Vuuren, the court sketch artist, seems quaint alongside all the high-tech scrutiny. Van Vuuren, who knew Pistorius before the killing, said it was emotionally difficult at first.

"I said to him before this court session that I'm not there to judge him. I'm just there to do my job," van Vuuren told South Africa's Eyewitness News. "He understands it. And the first day, he just hugged me and asked me for coffee."

Join the discussion

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wcannon46 March 16 2014 at 11:33 PM

he's either the dumbest bastard alive for shooting his gf through the door without even looking to see if it was her or we are for not convicting him. Fact, he shot her, more than once, behind a bathroom door from the same room they were sleeping in (accident-come on wtf) and she is dead by his hand, he did it, was it an accident, of course not, wake up...... OJ trial ending coming up

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joeshop8 March 16 2014 at 10:13 PM

No doubt in Anyones mind the Blade Vomiter killed His Girlfriend......................but on the horrid chance He gets off, He could go on tour with Lady Gaga vomiting on Her.

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thunderboatsuzy March 16 2014 at 9:14 PM

scumbag liar he killed her, if a burgalar is in your bathroom why would u shoot through the door would,nt you call the police and hide or run.why did,nt he go look for his girlfriend to see where she was and tell her hey there is a burgalar in the bathroom.why was,nt she in bed with him HELLO fighting she was probably calling a friend to leave.and yeah burgalars always decide to pee or poo while they steal the jewels lets leave our dna in the bowl for lenny briscoe to find.

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1 reply
johnathanjones4 thunderboatsuzy March 17 2014 at 7:57 AM

Maybe it was the turd burglar!

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sallywieck March 16 2014 at 8:21 PM

All trials should be private. Pistorius is being tried by the media not the courts. "Spectators" are nothing more than lookey-lous hoping to see some blood and gore. This is nothing different than the traffic jams around auto accidents - people hoping so "see" something. Clear the court, clear the media, and do some real searching for justice.

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dgolob7 March 16 2014 at 7:36 PM

What I have heard about the case was that neighbors reported hearing yelling and arguing before the shots were fired. It was reported by women witnesses past girl friends who said that he had a bad temper. Why would someone shoot into a bathroom, with the door closed and not seeing who they were shooting at.
You would think he would know where his girlfriend was in the house. This looks highly suspicious to me. I am leading towards guilty… Yes he is guilty of murder.

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alex104470 March 16 2014 at 5:57 PM

sow it mean if you and your girlfriend leaving togethre in apartment you wake up you see your girlfriend not in bed you get up get your gun you think there some intruder in bath room you shoot right away..what do you think that a littte stupid ..did you think may be your girfriend is taking a shower or ask whose there in the bathroom before you shoot this guy is full of lie

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1 reply
geigo1 alex104470 March 16 2014 at 9:34 PM

LIVING together (not "leaving" together); or ask WHO'S there (not WHOSE there). How about using a few capital letters and periods to end your sentences? All you "experts" with such hard and fast opinions lose credibility when you can't use the English language!

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1 reply
isoloverain geigo1 March 17 2014 at 5:07 AM

YOUR A *******

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drizz March 16 2014 at 5:46 PM

this is how I see IT . Now I haven't been following this at all but everynow and then it pops into my line of sight and i read whats up , this sometimes is better as your not so ingaged your lose your prespective. What you have is a man and a women alone in a place and one winds up shot dead. It's all real clear to me . She just didn't wind up shot to death by some mysitcal force. They aren't looking for anyone else because there was no one else there in the place it happened. I do believe there are some mitigating circumstances that would cause one to feel pushed into such an action . But none the lees your have one man one woman and one is shot dead and there are no other suspects . DUHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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onlyway2goisup March 16 2014 at 3:24 PM

Door locked and was using the phone..was she in fear of her life?

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goodgrief61945 March 16 2014 at 2:53 PM

Wouldn't she have screamed after the first shot, assuming it wasn't the head shot?

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oxalis March 16 2014 at 2:23 PM

I find it a bit strange someone would get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and lock the door...I guess, unless it's just second nature for some people to do that? It's strange he didn't notice she wasn't in bed with him. If people heard arguing beforehand it sounds like they had a fight. But there needs to be evidence.

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