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Pistorius trial adjourned until April 7

The judge overseeing Oscar Pistorius' murder trial has halted proceedings, saying one of her assessors had fallen ill. Prior to the adjournment, Pistorius was expected to testify in the Pretoria court.

Judge Thokozile Masipa on Friday postponed the trial of Paralympic gold medalist and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murder in the death of his partner Reeva Steenkamp.

"One of my assessors is not well," Masipa told the court in Pretoria. "I suggest that we postpone this matter to the seventh of April."

Pistorius was expected to testify on Friday; he is the only witness to Steenkamp's death, having shot her through a locked bathroom door. Pistorius has said that her death was an accident, that he had mistaken her for an intruder. His defense team has portrayed the pair as a loving couple, although SMS "text" messages from Steenkamp's phone suggested she was at times "scared" of Pistorius.

If called, defendant first

Although not obliged to testify, Pistorius' legal team had already hinted that doing so would likely be in their client's interest. Under South African law, if the accused does take the stand, he or she must be the defense's first witness. So far, Pistorius' in-court comments to judge Masipa have been limited to pleading "not guilty, milady" and the occasional "yes, milady."

The prosecution concluded its case on Tuesday, having called a total of 21 witnesses to offer testimony against Pistorius.

One key witness for the prosecution was a police ballistics expert who told the court that Steenkamp was hit in the hip first, before suffering gunshot wounds to her arm, hand and head. The prosecutors argued that this meant Steenkamp was likely to have cried out in pain - alerting Pistorius to her presence in the bathroom - before the lethal shot. The defense countered that the shots were fired too quickly for a scream in between, also saying that the shrieks might instead have hailed from Pistorius.

Steenkamp was shot dead on Valentine's Day of 2013, less than a year after Pistorius competed in the London Olympics running on carbon fiber blades. The 27-year-old, who has also won six Paralympic gold medals since 2004, was born missing both of the fibula bones in his calves.

Pistorius could face life in prison if found guilty of murder.

msh/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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