CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — 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 Thursday.
The two sides have been in ongoing talks since about August, a lawyer for Reeva Steenkamp's family told The Associated Press in email correspondence, and a settlement could involve Pistorius paying Steenkamp's family in the region of $275,000, according to media reports.
Steenkamp lawyer Dup de Bruyn first told The AP 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 of nearly six months of talks. "It's fair to say the negotiations have been going on for some time."
Pistorius family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said in a statement to AP that "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 Mar. 3, when South Africa's one-time sporting hero will face charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition, and also be indicted on two other charges relating to him allegedly shooting a gun recklessly in a public place on two separate occasions, prosecutors say.
Pistorius killed Steenkamp at his Pretoria home on Feb. 14 and was charged with premeditated murder, which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment in South Africa with a minimum of 25 years before the chance of parole. He denies murder and says he shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9 mm handgun through a toilet cubicle door by mistake, fearing she was a dangerous nighttime 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 and practicing attorney Stephen Tuson said, as well as insist that the agreement is made "without prejudice" — meaning he does not admit any fault. However, any settlement might still be used for cross-examination of Pistorius by the prosecution if he testifies at his trial, Tuson said.