Pistorius charged with murder in court
Oscar Pistorius told a packed courtroom Tuesday that he shot his girlfriend to death by mistake, thinking she was a robber. The prosecutor called it premeditated murder.
The double amputee said in an affidavit read by his lawyer at his bail hearing that he felt vulnerable because he did not have on his prosthetic legs when he pumped bullets into the locked bathroom door. Then, Pistorius said in the sworn statement, he realized that model Reeva Steenkamp was not in his bed.
''It filled me with horror and fear,'' he said.
He put on his prosthetic legs, tried to kick down the door, then bashed it in with a cricket bat to find Steenkamp, 29, shot inside. He said he ran downstairs with her, but ''She died in my arms.''
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel on Tuesday charged the 26-year-old athlete and Olympian with premeditated murder, alleging he took the time to put on his legs and walk some seven meters (yards) from the bed to the bathroom door before opening fire. A conviction of premeditated murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in jail.
The Valentine's Day shooting death has shocked South Africans and many around the world who idolized Pistorius for overcoming adversity to become a sports champion, competing in the London Olympics last year in track besides being a Paralympian. Steenkamp was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a South African reality TV program that was broadcast on Saturday, two days after her death.
The magistrate ruled that Pistorius faces the harshest bail requirements available in South African law.
Nel told the court that Pistorius fired into the door of a small bathroom where Steenkamp was cowering after a shouting match. He fired four times and three bullets hit Steenkamp, the prosecutor said.
''She couldn't go anywhere. You can run nowhere,'' prosecutor Nel argued. ''It must have been horrific.''
Pistorius sobbed softly as his lawyer, Barry Roux, insisted the shooting was an accident and that there was no evidence to substantiate a murder charge.
''Was it to kill her, or was it to get her out?'' he asked about the broken-down door. ''We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder.''
He said the state had provided no evidence that the couple quarreled nor offered a motive.
Nel rebutted: ''The motive is `I want to kill.'''
There were affadavits from friends of Pistorius and Steenkamp read out by defense lawyer Roux in the bail hearing.
The statements described a charming, happy couple. The night before the killing, they said, Pistorius and Steenkamp had canceled separate plans to spend the night before Valentine's Day together at his home.
As details emerged at the dramatic court hearing in the capital, Steenkamp's body was being cremated Tuesday at a memorial service in the south-coast port city of Port Elizabeth. The family said members had arrived from around the world. Six pallbearers carried her coffin, draped with a white cloth and covered in white flowers, into the church for the private service.
June Steenkamp, the mother, said the family wants answers.
''Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?'' she said in an interview published Monday in The Times newspaper.
Outside the court, several dozen singing women protested against domestic violence and waved placards urging Pistorius be refused bail. ''Pistorius must rot in jail,'' one placard said.
South Africa has some of the world's worst rates of violence against females and the highest rate in the world of women killed by an intimate partner, according to a study by the Medical Research Council. Another council study estimates a child or woman is raped every four minutes. While homicide rates have dropped, the number of women killed by current or former partners has increased, said the council's Professor Rachel Jewkes. At least three women are killed by a partner every day in the country of 50 million, she said.
Steenkamp campaigned actively against domestic violence and had tweeted on Twitter that she planned to join a ''Black Friday'' protest by wearing black in honor of a 17-year-old girl who was gang-raped and mutilated two weeks ago.
What ''she stood for, and the abuse against women, unfortunately it's gone right around and I think the Lord knows that statement is more powerful now,'' her uncle and the family spokesman Mike Steenkamp said after her memorial.
He said the family had planned a big get-together at Christmas but that had not been possible. ''But we are here today as a family and the only one who's missing is Reeva,'' he said, breaking down and weeping.
Pistorius was born without fibula bones and had them amputated when he was 11 months.
The man known as the Blade Runner because of his running prostheses has lost several valuable sponsorships estimated to be worth more than $1 million a year.
On Tuesday, the athlete was ousted from a pro-gay campaign being launched in Cape Town, organizers said. In a video axed from the campaign, Pistorius says ''You don't have to worry. You don't have to change. Take a deep breath and remember, `It will get better.'''