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Oscar Pistorius' hearing postponed until Aug. 19

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Oscar Pistorius appears in the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP)

Oscar Pistorius' latest date with destiny came and went in the early hours of Tuesday morning in Pretoria, South Africa, but as complex and convoluted as his murder case has become, the Blade Runner's freedom could hinge on something as simple as a few fragments of wood.

Pistorius appeared in Courtroom C at Pretoria Magistrates Court for just 17 minutes, finding himself on public display for the first time since the dramatic bail hearing that followed a Valentine's Day morning when he fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The next step of the judicial process was swiftly postponed until August 19, a date on which Pistorius is likely to hear details of the precise charges leveled against him before another probable postponement until near the end of the year.

A possible cause for the delay is due to complications regarding forensic evidence relating to the bathroom door that Pistorius allegedly fired through, then broke down to find Steenkamp slumped over.

Pistorius claims he thought he was shooting at an intruder in his luxury home in a gated community, while the prosecution will argue Steenkamp's killing was deliberate.

The exact nature of the forensic delay is not known but it is possible that door fragments need to be sent to an advanced testing facility for extra analysis, and evidence involving the angle of the bullets' entries – in his affidavit, Pistorius said he did not have on his prosthetic legs when he fired the gun – blood spatter and how the door was broken down still needs to be fully collected.

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Reeva Steenkamp (Getty Images)

The irony of the rescheduled court date will not be lost on Pistorius. As well as coming one day after the conclusion of the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, the biggest event in track and field outside of the Olympic Games, the date also would have marked Steenkamp's 30th birthday.

Instead of traveling back from Russia after competing against the best athletes on the planet, he will again be in a courtroom with the world's media scrutinizing his every move.

Pistorius cut a far calmer figure Tuesday than during his February bail hearing, where he repeatedly wept and doubled over, unable to control his emotions. This time around there were no tears, just a solemn agreement when chief magistrate Daniel Thulare ordered his reappearance in August.

The track star, who runs on prosthetic blades after being born with severely limited function in his lower legs that resulted in amputation, wore a gray suit with a blue shirt and a checkered tie, with no trace of the beard he had reportedly grown over the previous three months.

Avoiding the media scrum outside, Pistorius entered the courtroom through a back entrance after being given special permission to do so and spoke briefly with friends and family before proceedings got underway.

Agreement between both legal teams on the new date had been reached privately, expediting Tuesday's events significantly. Yet there was still the opportunity for Thulare to deliver a stern warning to the local media that its antics are having a negative impact on the entire South African nation, and its international reputation.

South Africa's legal hierarchy has no wish for the image of a lawless society to be spread and there is a growing feeling that not only must justice be done in the case of Pistorius, but be seen to be carried out efficiently.

Reports such as the crime scene photographs leaked to the media before the defense team even had a chance to inspect them have caused concern and clearly angered Thulare.

"It would appear there is a trial by media houses of Mr. Pistorius," Thulare said. "This may scandalize the court processes and the administration of justice. It is important that … our colleagues from around the world respect [South Africa's] processes."

South Africa's lack of a jury system – Pistorius' trial will be decided by a single judge – allows certain freedoms to the press that would not be permitted in the United States. However, the over-reaching nature of some of the reporting could lead to contempt of court actions.

Yet the call for order from Thulare took a twist in itself as it emerged that the magistrate is a highly controversial figure within South African judicial circles, after stating three years ago that certain drivers should be allowed on the roads even if they do not hold a valid license.

In this extraordinary case that eventually will determine only one thing – Oscar Pistorius' freedom or incarceration, but features a seemingly unlimited number of subplots – nothing should surprise us anymore.

 

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