Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial to Begin in South Africa

"Blade Runner" charged with killing his model girlfriend.

March 2, 2014— -- Disgraced Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius goes on trial Monday in Pretoria, South Africa, on four charges -- including premeditated murder -- in the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Pistorius, the double-amputee "Blade Runner" who became the first Paralympian to compete with able-bodied athletes, shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013.

While his prosecutors are claiming he acted with murderous intent, Pistorius insists it was a case of mistaken identity. He argues that he acted in self-defense after mistaking Steenkamp for an intruder.

Key Questions in the Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial

All indications are that he'll plead not guilty to the charges against him. Apart from the murder charge, he's also accused of illegal possession of ammunition and two counts of discharging a firearm in public.

The prosecution will set out to prove that Pistorius, 27, intended to kill Steenkamp when he fired four shots through a locked bathroom door -- fatally wounding the 29-year-old model, lawyer and reality TV star.

Read More: Friends, Roommate Believe Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp Were Happy

Born with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs, Pistorius had both legs amputated when he was 11 years old.

Earlier this week the world got a recent glimpse of the man prosecutor Gerrie Nel claimed was "willing and ready to fire and kill," when a British TV network screened video footage of Pistorius on a shooting range -- opening fire on a watermelon.

The additional firearms related charges, two of which were only added late last year, will form part of the state's tactics to prove that Pistorius was a gun-toting hothead with a violent temper. They are expected to call more than 100 witnesses, some who will testify about an argument between Steenkamp and her alleged killer in the hours leading up to 3 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2013.

Watch: How Prosecutors Plan to Make Their Case Against Pistorius

Pistorius' version of events, that he was on his stumps and felt fearful and vulnerable, will be weighed up against the state's arguments that he had every intention of killing Steenkamp by a female judge, who will be assisted by two assessors. In South Africa, jury trials were abolished in 1969 -- during the white minority rule known as apartheid -- as there were fears of racial prejudice by white jurors.

Watch: Recreating the Night of the Shooting

If Pistorius is convicted of murder, he faces a mandatory life sentence, which in practice boils down to 25 years behind bars. If he convinces the court that he did not mean to kill Steenkamp, he could still be found guilty on a lesser charge of culpable homicide, which -- while it does not carry a mandatory sentence -- could mean he might face a prison term of up to 15 years, although a non-custodial sentence would also be imposed.

Much of the trial will be televised -- with the most notable exception being the accused's version. An application by several South African media organisations to have the case broadcast both on TV and radio was approved last week – making this the first televised trial in South Africa.

Interest in the case is so high that a dedicated 24-hour satelite TV channel has been launched to give viewers a blow-by-blow account of proceedings.

One of the first witnesses the State is expected to call is a former girlfriend, who will testify about Pistorius' alleged violent temper -- but crucial to the case against the athlete would be the forensic and ballistic experts who will testify about cellphone records, blood spatter patterns and bullet trajectories.

Also of critical importance will be the bathroom door Steenkamp allegedly hid behind while her boyfriend fired at her. The door, which Pistorius kicked in after the shooting to get to the dying model, was allegedly kept unsecured in a local police chief's office for several days -- a point which, if true, the defense will undoubtedly make much of as the trial unfolds.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events