PRETORIA, South Africa March 21, 2014 -- The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has had a curious sideshow of Pistorius and June Steenkamp, the mother of his slain girlfriend, nodding to each other in court and members of the Pistorius family trying to comfort her.
Both families spend their days sitting on the long wooden first row bench in the public gallery of the High Court in Pretoria.
Pistorius, the legless paralympian known as Blade Runner, claims he shot his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp three times through his locked bathroom door because he mistook her for an intruder. Pistorius, 27, could face at least 25 years in prison if convicted.
June Steenkamp, 67, was absent for much of the first couple weeks of the trial, but she was present on the day the trial began. She appeared irked that the man who killed her daughter didn't acknowledge her presence.
"He just walked into the courtroom and looked straight ahead. And then he sat down and never looked my way... I wanted him to see me. I'm the mother of Reeva," she said later.
Later that same day, during a brief, spontaneous moment at a bus stop outside the courthouse, Pistorius’ brother, Carl, put his arms around her, their cheeks together for a brief, silent moment.
June Steenkamp stayed home in Port Elizabeth for the next couple of weeks to care of her husband Barry, who is recovering from a stroke. When she returned to court earlier this week, Pistorius paused for a moment as he walked into the courtroom and greeted her. Although it was slight, there was a nod from June Steenkamp – a sign that she acknowledged the greeting.
Shortly after that exchange, Pistorius’ sister Aimee walked over to Mrs. Steenkamp’s seat, kneeling at her feet and speaking to her for several minutes. The women seemed to pat each other's hands in comfort.
The next day, Pistorius’ uncle Arnold – the patriarch of the family – reached out to Reeva’s mother, telling her in the brief moments before proceedings started: "I am so sorry for your loss. We as a family are just as heartbroken for the life that has been lost... Like your family we are trying to fight for a life and also for a life that has been lost."
The trial has been hard for June Steenkamp to bear. She has left court during a grisly description of her daughter's wounds and a photo of Pistorius smeared with Reeva Steenkamp's blood.
Pistorius himself has vomited twice during graphic testimony and frequently tries to plug his ears with his fingers.
At times, the obvious fragility of the relationship between the two families appears to surface.
On Wednesday, Aimee Pistorius again approached June Steenkamp. After a brief conversation, Aimee Pistorius walked away with a slight frown on her face. She asked a journalist for a piece of paper and started penning a note. Moments later Oscar Pistorius came over, reading some of what his sister was writing over her shoulder. The note was passed along the hard wooden bench until it reached June Steenkamp, who acknowledged Aimee from afar. She opened the note, but appeared to place in her bag to finish later.
Perhaps most telling were the comments June Steenkamp made before the trial during the sole interview she has given
"It doesn't matter what happens to Oscar because my daughter is never coming back," she said.
June Steenkamp added, "It's actually important to forgive him, for me. Because I don't want to live with bitterness in my life... I can forgive."