Deal with dead girlfriend's parents 'could go against Pistorius at trial'
Settlement with slain girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp's parents may be used by the prosecution at his murder trial, expert warns
An out-of-court settlement following months of negotiations between Oscar Pistorius' lawyers and representatives of the parents of his slain girlfriend could work against the Olympic athlete at his March murder trial, a legal expert said.
Steenkamp lawyer Dup de Bruyn first said in August that the parties were negotiating, but both sides have declined to comment on the details, including the amount being considered, because of their sensitive nature.
"Discussions are ongoing and clearly one would like to reach a settlement," Pistorius lawyer Brian Webber said.
Pistorius family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said "any dialogue between Oscar's lawyer and the Steenkamp family is a private matter and out of respect for Reeva's memory, we will not be commenting in any way on this".
The trial of the double amputee is due to start on March 3, when South Africa's one-time sporting hero will face charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition. He also will be indicted on two other charges relating to him allegedly shooting a gun recklessly in a public place.
Pistorius killed Steenkamp at his Pretoria home on February 14 last year and was charged with premeditated murder, which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment in South Africa with a minimum term of 25 years. He denies murder and says he shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9mm handgun through a toilet cubicle door by mistake, fearing she was an intruder.
Any settlement before trial would help Steenkamp's parents, Barry and June, who relied on their daughter - a model and reality TV star - for financial help.
Pistorius could seek non-disclosure clauses in any settlement, law professor Stephen Tuson said, as well as insist that the agreement was made "without prejudice" - meaning he does not admit any fault. But any settlement might still be used for cross-examination of Pistorius by the prosecution if he testified, 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' lawyers reportedly hopeful of finalising an agreement before the 27-year-old's blockbuster trial begins at a high court in Pretoria. 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 wouldn't want any inferences to be drawn," Tuson said.
Burgess, the spokeswoman, said Pistorius was still "overwhelmed" and continued to spend time with his family while preparing for his trial.
One of the world's most famous sportsmen, Pistorius is rarely seen in public now and is thought to be still living at his uncle's house in an exclusive suburb of Pretoria after he was released on bail nearly a year ago.