JOHANNESBURG — After his sentencing hearing last week, convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius was mistakenly ushered to a vehicle carrying Barry Steenkamp, father of Reeva, the girlfriend he killed. A police officer pulled open the sliding door before realizing the error. Surrounded by journalists and onlookers, Pistorius stepped away, made a phone call and was soon driving away in a car that had arrived to collect him.
The mishap outside a Pretoria courthouse came toward the end of a three-year drama in South Africa's wood-paneled courtrooms as well as in the global arena of public opinion. It nearly thrust together two men described as broken — defense lawyers say the double-amputee Olympian is emotionally devastated, and the prosecution says Steenkamp is shattered by the loss of his daughter.
Ahead of the July 6 sentencing of the athlete, a television interview with Pistorius is reviving questions about the former star who, despite intense media coverage of his trial, seems unknowable to many who speculate about what exactly happened on the night he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp in his home early on Valentine's Day 2013. Did he kill her intentionally or after mistaking her for an intruder, as he maintains? Did his tears on the witness stand express true remorse or were they an exercise in self-pity and a bid to garner sympathy?
The documentary on Britain's ITV, to be broadcast late Friday, appears to be an effort by Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion who also ran at the 2012 Olympics, to sway public opinion even as he has suffered setbacks in the courts. South Africa's M-Net will also screen the documentary.
In interview excerpts reported by some media, Pistorius said he doesn't want to "waste" his life by going back to jail, where he already spent one year on an earlier conviction of manslaughter for Steenkamp's death that was overturned in favor of the murder conviction. An appeals court determined that Pistorius intended to kill — whether an intruder, according to his account, or his girlfriend, by the prosecution's account.
South Africa's minimum sentence for murder is 15 years in prison, though a judge can reduce that sentence in some circumstances. The prosecution, which has asked for 15 years, or the defense can appeal the sentence.
"If I was afforded the opportunity of redemption I would like to help the less fortunate like I had in my past. I would like to believe that if Reeva could look down upon me, that she would want me to live that life," Pistorius said in the edited interview. Pistorius also wept as he delivered his account of thinking an intruder was in his house, opening fire, realizing his error and trying to revive Steenkamp.
Last week, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said it was "disrespectful" to Steenkamp and her family that Pistorius conducted the interview but declined to testify at his sentencing hearing.
Lawyers generally advise clients not to talk to the media while a case is underway because of possible legal complications. Earlier this month, Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said the family had declined many requests for interviews with his nephew to respect the legal process. He said ITV's request was granted in an effort to dispel what he described as the many inaccuracies and speculations that had arisen.
The image of a man overwhelmed by grief because of a tragic error captivated supporters of Pistorius, including those who wept and gasped last week when his lawyer asked him to take off his prostheses and walk on his stumps in the courtroom to show his vulnerability.
Barry Steenkamp was a picture of distress on the witness stand. He described how he has jabbed hard at his stomach and arms with the needles he uses for his diabetes medication to try to simulate the pain that his daughter must have felt. He also argued successfully for the judge to release graphic photos taken after she was shot, and some media have shown the images of Reeva Steenkamp with blood-caked hair and closed eyes.
"Oscar has to pay for what he did," said Barry Steenkamp, adding that he would like to talk to Pistorius in private at a later stage.
Last week, no words were exchanged when Pistorius stood briefly at the door of the vehicle carrying the father of his dead girlfriend.
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris