Oscar Pistorius wept as his defence lawyer read the athlete’s account of how he shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, claiming he had mistaken her for an intruder.
• Pistorius opens defence with claim that athlete confused girlfriend for robber
• Defence claim that killing was not murder
• Prosecution argue that murder was premeditated
Prosecutors told a packed courtroom that the double-amputee intentionally and mercilessly murdered 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp as she cowered inside a locked bathroom.
In a statement read on his behalf at a bail hearing in Pretoria yesterday, Pistorius said he felt vulnerable in the presence of an intruder inside the bathroom because he did not have his prosthetic legs on, and fired into the bathroom door.
In a major point of contention that has already emerged, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius took the time to put on his prosthetic legs, walked seven metres from the bed to the enclosed toilet inside his bathroom and only then opened fire. Three of the bullets hit Ms Steenkamp of the four that were fired into the door, Mr Nel said.
However, Pistorius said in his sworn statement that after opening fire, he realised that Steenkamp was not in his bed. “It filled me with horror and fear,” he said.
The 26-year-old Olympian then put on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the door before finally giving up and breaking it down with a cricket bat, the court heard.
Inside, he said he found Ms Steenkamp, slumped over. He said he lifted her bloodied body into his arms and tried to carry her downstairs to seek medical help, but, by then, it was too late. “She died in my arms,” the athlete said.
The Valentine’s Day shooting shocked South Africans and many around the world who idolised Pistorius for overcoming adversity to become a sports champion, competing in the London Olympics last year.
Ms Steenkamp was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a South African reality TV programme that was broadcast on Saturday, two days after her death.
Mr Nel charged Pistorius with premeditated murder and said the athlete opened fire after he and Ms Steenkamp engaged in a shouting match. “She couldn’t go anywhere. You can run nowhere,” Mr Nel said. “It must have been horrific.”
A conviction for premeditated murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in jail.
Chief magistrate Desmond Nair ruled Pistorius must face the harshest bail requirements available in South African law. That means his lawyers must offer “exceptional” reasons for the athlete to be free before trial, besides simply giving up his two South African passports and posting a cash bond.
Pistorius sobbed softly as his lawyer, Barry Roux, insisted that 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.”
Pistorius’s emotional outbursts again played a part in how the hearing progressed, as it did during an initial hearing on Friday. At one point, Mr Nair stopped the hearing after Pistorius wept as Mr Roux read a portion of the athlete’s statement describing how Ms Steenkamp bought him a Valentine’s Day present, but would not let him open it the night before.
“Maintain your composure,” the magistrate said. “You need to apply your mind here.” Pistorius’s voice quivered when he answered: “Yes, my lordship.”
Affidavits from friends of
Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp read out by Mr Roux in the hearing described the two as a charming, happy couple.
The night before the killing, they said, Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp had cancelled separate plans in order to spend the eve of Valentine’s Day together at his home, in a gated neighbourhood of Pretoria.
Outside the court, several dozen singing women protested against domestic violence and waved placards urging that Pistorius be refused bail. “Pistorius must rot in jail,” one placard said.
As details emerged at the dramatic court hearing, Ms Steenkamp’s body was being cremated yesterday at a memorial service in the south-coast port city of Port Elizabeth.
The family said relatives 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 service.
South Africa has some of the world’s highest rates of violence against women and the highest rate in the world of women killed by someone close to them, 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 fallen, 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.
Ms Steenkamp campaigned against domestic violence and had written on Twitter that she planned to join a “Black Friday” protest by wearing black in honour 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 has gone right around and I think the Lord knows that statement is more powerful now,” her uncle
Mike Steenkamp, the family’s spokesman, said after her memorial.
He said that 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 has lost several valuable sponsorship deals estimated to be worth more than $1 million a year.
Yesterday, the athlete was ousted from a pro-gay campaign being launched in Cape Town, organisers 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.’”
• The BBC apologised for following a news story on Pistorius’ trial with a Jimi Hendrix song about a man shooting his wife.
6Music followed their news bulletin with Hey Joe, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The song features the line: “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand? I’m going out to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messing around with another man”.