Pretoria – In three weeks’ time, Valentine’s Day will dawn for June and Barry Steenkamp, and it will be a year since Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot dead their daughter, Reeva, then his girlfriend.
Reeva brought joy to the lives of her elderly and impoverished parents and was making plans to start a law firm in Port Elizabeth, and offer them financial security.
Instead, aged 29, she died panic-stricken and alone, in the bathroom of Pistorius’s luxurious Pretoria gated home after he shot her several times through the locked door.
Not only have they been grieving for the past year, but their embarrassing financial plight has taken a toll on them. In an interview with the London Mail on Sunday last year, they spoke of how their financial ruin forced them to sue Pistorius.
“Our hearts just feel broken. But we have no choice but to sue. Pistorius has placed us in this position,” June said in an interview with the newspaper. “We are struggling financially. Reeva was helping us. On the night she died, when she was on her way to Oscar’s house, we talked about her sending us money to pay our cable television bill. I was fretting because I thought I was going to miss her first TV appearance. She told me not to worry, she would send money the next day. She regularly helped us with food and utility bills.”
All these months later, it was revealed this week that lawyers for Pistorius and the Steenkamps had been negotiating for months on details of an out-of-court settlement ahead of his March murder trial.
The two sides have been in ongoing talks since about August, a lawyer for Reeva Steenkamp’s family told the Associated Press in e-mail correspondence, and a settlement could involve Pistorius paying Steenkamp’s family in the region of R3-million, according to media reports.
Steenkamp lawyer Dup de Bruyn first told AP in August that the parties were negotiating, but both sides have declined to comment. “Discussions are ongoing and clearly one would like to reach a settlement,” Pistorius’s lawyer, Brian Webber, said of nearly six months of talks.
Pistorius family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess told AP that “any dialogue between Oscar’s lawyer and the Steenkamp family is a private matter”.
The trial of the double amputee is due to start on March 3, when the one-time sporting hero will face charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition, and also be indicted on two other charges relating to him allegedly shooting a gun recklessly in a public place on two separate occasions, prosecutors say.
One legal expert has said that the settlement negotiations could work against Pistorius at his March murder trial.
Pistorius killed Steenkamp at his Pretoria home on February 14 and was charged with premeditated murder, which can carry a sentence of life in prison with a minimum of 25 years before the chance of parole.
He denies murder and says he shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9mm handgun through a bathroom door by mistake, fearing that she was a dangerous night-time intruder. Pistorius could seek non-disclosure clauses in any settlement, law professor and practising attorney Stephen Tuson said, as well as insist that the agreement is made “without prejudice” – meaning he does not admit any fault.
However, any settlement might still be used for cross-examination of Pistorius by the prosecution if he testified at his trial, Tuson said.
“It definitely does provide material for the prosecution, to just niggle, a niggling question or two,” Tuson said. “You paid. Why, if you are innocent?” The long negotiations are believed to be nearing their conclusion, with Pistorius’s lawyers reportedly hopeful of finalising an agreement before the 27-year-old’s trial begins at the Pretoria High Court.
A conviction, either on a murder charge or on a lesser negligent killing charge, could leave an already financially stretched Pistorius open to a large civil claim.
Tuson, who is not part of the case but has been following it, said a court was “entitled to draw inferences” if Pistorius declined to answer questions – as is his right as a defendant – on why he paid Steenkamp’s family compensation.
“Personally, I would defer… any admissions or any settlement because I don’t want any inferences to be drawn,” Tuson said.
Burgess, the spokeswoman, said Pistorius was still “overwhelmed”.
The 400m athlete had been training for around a month before Christmas, Pistorius’s agent, Peet van Zyl said, but was now “scaling down” his running again in preparation for the trial. The case will be heard by Judge Thokozile Masipa. – Pretoria News Weekend