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True story behind The Trials of Oscar Pistorius – BBC documentary to explore 2013 crime which shocked the world

In 2013, former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The BBC documentary tells the story of his conviction.

Oscar Pistorius
Getty Images
Published: Friday, 6th November 2020 at 11:17 am

The BBC looks into the conviction of 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius – who was convicted of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – in new documentary The Trials of Oscar Pistorius.


In 2013, Pistorius shot and killed paralegal and model Reeva at his home in Pretoria, South Africa.

He was arrested and charged with murder. However, at his trial the following year, Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of culpable homicide. The verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, and he was convicted of murder.

The four part series will look at how the athlete went from being an "international hero" to his conviction of murder.

Here's everything you need to know.

Who is Oscar Pistorius?

Oscar Pistorius, 33, is a South African former professional sprinter.

When he was just 11 months old, both of his feet were amputated due to a congenital defect. He was born missing the outside of both feet and both fibulae. Pistorius ran in both non-disabled sprint events and in sprint events for below-knee amputees. He was the 10th athlete to compete at both the Paralympic Games and Olympic Games.

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius
Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius Getty Images

Who is Reeva Steenkamp?

Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp was a South African model and paralegal. She modelled for FHM magazine and was the first face of Avon cosmetics in South Africa.

On Valentine's Day 2013, Steenkamp was shot dead by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. He stated he thought Steenkamp was an intruder hiding in the bathroom at his home.

What did Oscar Pistorius do?

On 14th February 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva at his South Africa home. He claimed he had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the bathroom.

He was arrested and charged with murder. Pistorius was not initially found guilty of murder, and instead was found guilty of culpable homicide at his trial the year after.

He received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for a separate reckless endangerment conviction.

Pistorius was temporarily released on house arrest in 2015, while the case was presented to a panel at the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, which then overturned the culpable homicide verdict and convicted him of murder.

In July 2015, Judge Thokozile Masipa extended Pistorius' sentence to six years. The Supreme Court of Appeal then increased Pistorius' prison term to 13 years and five months on appeal by the state for a longer prison sentence.

Timeline of Oscar Pistorius Murder Conviction

  • 14th February 2013 - Oscar Pistorius faces murder charges for killing his fashion-model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. An official says that Pistorius, 26 years old, will appear at Pretoria's Magistrate Court the following day for the charge of the murder of Steenkamp. A police spokeswoman says previous domestic complaints will be part of the case.
  • 15th February 2013 - Pistorius denies murder. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel says he is charging Pistorius over the killing of his girlfriend, Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and aspiring actress. Nel says he will argue that Pistorius committed premeditated murder.
  • 22th February 2013 - Pistorius is granted bail.
  • 19th August 2013 - Prosecutors in South Africa submit their formal indictment. Pistorius must return to court on March 3rd to face the charge of premeditated murder for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp.
  • 15th February 204 - Judge Dunstan Miambo rules media houses are able to broadcast parts of the murder trial.
  • 3rd March 2014 - The trial begins. The case includes witness testimony from neighbours, who say they heard the distressed screams of a woman before the sound of four gunshots.
  • 28th March 2014 - The trial is adjourned until 7th April.
  • 7th April 2014 - Pistorius takes stand in murder trial. Pistorius says that he has nightmares and wakes up smelling Reeva Steenkamp’s blood. He says he feels vulnerable without his prosthetics and thought there was a burglar inside his bathroom.
  • 8th April 2014 - Pistorius recalls night of Reeva's shooting under questioning from his lawyer. "That's the moment everything changed," he says.
  • 9th April 2014 - Prosecutor Gerrie Nel challenges Pistorius, asking him to "take responsibility" and shows him graphic photos of the crime scene.
  • 11th - 12th September 2014 - Pistorius is found guilty of culpable homicide. He is granted bail until his sentencing.
  • October 2014 - Pistorius is sentenced to five years in jail.
  • 5th November 2014 - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says it intends to appeal the culpable homicide verdict and five-year sentence. The NPA argues Pistorius should be charged with murder, which carries a prison sentence of at least 15 years.
  • 8th June 2015 - It is announced that Pistorius will be released on house arrest on 21st August, after spending 10 months in prison.
  • 17th August 2015 - The NPA files its appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
  • 19th August 2015 - The justice ministry puts the decision to free Pistorius on hold, saying it had no legal basis.
  • 27th September 2015 - Pistorius's defence team submits their papers to the SCA.
  • 19th October 2015 - Pistorius is released on house arrest a day before the publicised date. It's apparently a move to avoid media attention.
  • 3rd December 2015 - The SCA releases its ruling, replacing culpable homicide verdict with murder.
  • 8th December 2016 - Pistorius returns to High Court in Pretoria. He is granted bail of R10 000 equivalent to £479.47.
  • 11th January 2016 - Pistorius files papers with the Constitutional Court to appeal the murder conviction.
  • 3rd March 2016 - The Constitutional Court dismisses Pistorius's appeal. A re-sentencing is set for June.
  • 13th - 15th June 2016 - Pistorius returns to High Court in Pretoria. Barry Steenkamp, Reeva's father, takes the stand for the first time for the State. He asks for pictures of his daughter taken at the crime scene to be released. Gerrie Nel asks for a minimum of 15 years, while Barry Roux asks for leniency after Pistorius demonstrates walking on his stumps before the court.
  • 24th June 2016 - ITV airs an interview with Pistorius
  • 6th July 2016 - Judge Masipa hands down her sentence. She acknowledges the "serious nature" of the crime, but believes long-term imprisonment "would not serve justice" in this case. She states that Pistorius has shown remorse, and the court cannot rule by public opinion. Pistorius will now serve six years in prison.
  • 4th November 2017 - Pistorius's sentence increased to 15 years.

Where is Oscar Pistorius now?

Oscar Pistorius is still behind bars. He is being held at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.

When he was originally sentenced to five years he was placed in Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru prison.

In October 2016, Pistorius was moved to Atteridgeville prison.

On 24th November 2017, the former athlete had his sentence increased to 15 years, meaning he had 13 years and five months left to serve and he may not be released until 2030.

The family of murdered model Reeva Steenkamp welcomed the increased sentence and said it showed that justice could prevail in South Africa.

Pistorius will be eligible for parole in 2023.


The Trials of Pistorius is on BBC Two on Sunday at 21:10. The entire boxset will then be made available to stream on BBC iPlayer. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.


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