CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A pathologist will likely testify first when Oscar Pistorius' defense team starts calling witnesses at his murder trial next week, the double-amputee athlete's lawyer said Tuesday.
Brian Webber told The Associated Press in an email that "it is likely" that the defense will call Prof. Jan Botha as its first witness on Monday, after four weeks of prosecution-led testimony and a week's adjournment.
Pistorius is expected to testify to explain why he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year by shooting her multiple times through a toilet door.
The Olympic runner says he shot Steenkamp by mistake thinking she was a dangerous intruder who had broken into his bathroom. Prosecutors say the 27-year-old Pistorius killed the 29-year-old model intentionally after an argument in the pre-dawn hours and have charged him with premeditated murder.
In South Africa, defendants who indicate they will testify are usually expected to go first but Webber said it was his understanding that prosecutors had agreed to the defense's request that Botha give evidence first because of the pathologist's personal circumstances.
"It is likely that we will call Professor Jan Botha on Monday as he has personal difficulties and I believe that the state has agreed to him giving evidence first," Webber wrote to the AP.
Pistorius could go to prison for 25 years to life if convicted of premeditated murder for Steenkamp's shooting death.
Pistorius' testimony will likely be crucial, with the athlete under intense scrutiny to explain why he shot four times through a toilet cubicle door without knowing, in his version, who was on the other side and the location of his girlfriend.
Although some legal experts say Pistorius taking the stand is a risk for his defense, they say he has little choice because he has admitted killing Steenkamp unlawfully and therefore needs to explain his reasons.
"The only question is whether there was intent and intent is subjective," former state prosecutor and now defense lawyer Marius du Toit said. "That means the accused must come and dispel that."
Du Toit, who is following the trial but not involved in it, said Pistorius' testimony was "definitely the key."
The defense may use the expert forensic testimony of Botha, the pathologist, to combat the prosecution's claim that Steenkamp screamed during the gunshots that killed her and so Pistorius must have known who he was firing at with his 9 mm pistol.
Defense lawyer Webber also said that although lawyers for Pistorius and Steenkamp's family are still in negotiations over a possible out-of-court settlement for her death, nothing would be decided until after the trial.
Representatives of the parties have been in contact since last year. Both sides have declined to give details of any discussions but South African media has speculated that Pistorius might pay Steenkamp's family in the region of $200,000 to $300,000.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP