TODAY   |  March 28, 2014

Oscar Pistorius trial postponed

Moments before athlete Oscar Pistorius was to testify in his own defense, the judge postponed the trial after an assessor fell ill. The defense must now wait more than a week to begin its case. NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> drama. a surprise delay announced by the judge this morning. nbc's national investigative correspondent covering this trial from the beginning. jeff, good morning to you.

>> hey, savannah, good morning to you. wild day here in court. this was supposed to be the big moment. oscar pistorius breaking his silence, taking the stand in his own defense. the court works differently here than back home in the states. no jury here, just a judge and two assessors who help the judge. well, one of those assessors is sick. so in a bizarre and surprising twist, the judge sent everyone home for a long time. oscar pistorius walked into court this morning with his game face on. finally, his moment to convince the court in his own words that he shot and killed reeva steenkamp in self-defense. mistook her for an intruder. but when the judge walked in, notice that empty chair on the left.

>> one of my -- is not well, so this is not properly constituted.

>> which means the trial can't go on. a courtroom surprise. with pistorius himself looking on.

>> this will be postponed to monday the 7th of april 2014 at 9:30 in the morning. and i'm grateful to all counsel and the court for accommodating us.

>> that's right, the case is delayed for ten days. pistorius got up and walked out just minutes after walking in.

>> i think this came as a real shock to everybody. i spoke to the prosecution and the defense. both sides said they were completely ready to go today.

>> reporter: i think a lot of people watching this in the states will think this seems like a long delay. why can't the judge go on by herself?

>> she has two assessors that sit in on the case, they participate in taking notes, deliberations, help arrive the judgments. they're not legally required. but once they start the case with the judge, they have to finish the process with her.

>> and there was yet another surprise here, too. even though we see pistorius in court every day sitting there, crying sometimes, weeping, getting sick, pistorius doesn't want to testify on camera. so it'll be audio only.

>> i think ultimately it comes down to him being comfortable on the stand when he's giving testimony.

>> not wanting to get emotional in front of the world.

>> absolutely. and i think cameras wouldn't really help that.

>> reporter: some here say pistorius shouldn't be given a choice whether to appear on camera or not, but it makes sense for witnesses to get that courtesy who don't want their lives turned upsidedown, but not for the defendant choosing to testify in his own defense. this is the first time that cameras have been allowed inside a courtroom here. no precedent set.