Oscar Pistorius' murder trial was unexpectedly postponed on Friday, a day when many believed he might take the stand to explain why he shot and killed is girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year.
The reason for the postponement is that a crucial member of the court, called an assessor, is sick and had to be hospitalized.
Court is, at this point, scheduled to resume for the weeks of April 7 and April 14 but the clerk says they will have to wait until the assessor is better and that they will wait as long as it takes. The trial will have to start over if she cannot return to court for some reason. There were no details given on the assessor's condition other than the fact that her hospitalization wasn't scheduled.
In South Africa, there are no juries. Instead, there is a single judge who is assisted by two lay people called assessors who have expertise in the issues being presented in court. While these assessors may have some legal training, they are there to help the judge decide on matters of fact, not the law. If an assessor disagrees with the verdict, he or she can write a dissenting opinion. The two assessor can also, in theory, overturn the judge's ruling although this doesn't happen in practice.
Pistorius' defense team was expected to begin its case Friday morning and it was very likely that Pistorius would be called as the first witness. None of the lawyers knew this postponement was happening until they arrived in court.
Prosecutors have already rested their case after calling 21 witnesses over 15 days. They attempted to show Pistorius intentionally pulled the trigger when he shot and killed Steenkamp after a heated argument in the early morning hours of February 14, 2013.
Pistorius, a double-amputee Olympic sprinter who earned the nickname "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic legs, has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder. He has never denied shooting Steenkamp but insists he did it on accident, after mistaking her for an intruder.
If convicted, Pistorius faces up to life in prison.