Sobbing Pistorius accused of ‘premeditated’ murder
South African sporting hero Oscar Pistorius broke down in court Tuesday as he was accused of shooting his model girlfriend through a locked bathroom door in what prosecutors said was a "premeditated" Valentine's Day murder.
The double-amputee Olympian and Paralympian “Blade Runner” is seeking bail at the Pretoria court hearing, which revealed startlingly different accounts from the prosecution and defence about how his covergirl law graduate lover Reeva Steenkamp was killed.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius armed himself, put on his prostheses, walked seven metres and fired four shots through a locked bathroom door at his luxury Pretoria home, hitting a terrified Steenkamp three times and fatally wounding her.
“She could go nowhere,” he said, adding that Pistorius had “shot and killed unarmed innocent woman”.
He said Steenkamp, 29, had arrived at Pistorius’s home on Wednesday evening with an overnight bag, seeking to counter claims that the athlete had mistaken her for an intruder.
As the court hearing was under way in the South African capital, Steenkamp was being laid to rest at a private ceremony in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.
Pistorius, wearing a black suit, blue shirt and grey tie for his second court hearing since the February 14 shooting, broke down in sobs every time Steenkamp’s name was mentioned.
The 26-year-old — who became an inspiration to millions when he became the first double amputee to run against able-bodied athletes at last year’s Olympics — spoke only to confirm he had no previous convictions.
“Yes, your worship,” he said in a shaking voice. Magistrate Desmond Nair asked Pistorius to speak up and he repeated the phrase louder.
Pistorius’s heavyweight legal team rejected claims that the killing was premeditated.
“We submit it’s not even a murder. There’s no concession that it’s murder,” said lawyer Barry Roux.
Roux challenged the claim that Pistorius put on his prostheses before shooting and argued the runner believed the person in the bathroom to be an intruder.
“I will put before court case after case where husbands through accident shot wives… believing it was an intruder,” said Roux. “Is that now preplanned murder?”
Roux also claimed Pistorius had broken down the door to help Steenkamp.
Defence lawyers are expected to argue that Pistorius should be freed pending trial but the state has said it would oppose bail.
The killing has put Pistorius’s career on hold, forcing him to cancel races in Australia, Brazil, Britain and the United States between March and May.
The Johannesburg-born athlete, whose nickname was inspired by his custom-built carbon-fibre running blades, had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones.
In Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp’s coffin with white flowers laid on top was carried into the chapel at the crematorium as sombre-faced mourners exchanged hugs.
“It’s kind of only sinking in now that I’m actually here, that she’s really gone,” said Bongiwe Gaxambaa, one of Steenkamp’s classmates at a local private Catholic school.
In an interview published on Monday, Steenkamp’s mother described Reeva’s death as “horrendous.”
“Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?” June Steenkamp told the Times of South Africa.
“She had so much of herself to give and now all that is gone. Just like that, she is gone… In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here.”
The family said bore the runner no grudge but wanted clarity about Steenkamp’s death.
“The family haven’t got that animosity or hatred or anything like that but questions, and we realise that it’s going to come out,” Reeva’s uncle Michael Steenkamp told AFP.
On Saturday a celebrity television show aired haunting footage of Steenkamp speaking about the need to leave a positive mark on life, words laden with poignancy after her death.
“Not just your journey in life, but the way that you go out and make your exit is so important, you have either made an impact in a positive way or a negative way,” she said.
Pistorius, who off the track has a rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defence.
Stuart Higgins, a former editor of British tabloid The Sun, whose lengthy list of clients includes British Airways, Chelsea FC and Manchester United football club, has taken over his public relations.
One of his lawyers, Kenny Oldwage, defended the driver in a 2010 accident that killed former president Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchild Zenani. The driver was acquitted.