Pistorius refutes charges of murdering girlfriend

Olympic star Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears in the dock yesterday as he was charged with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend, a charge he denied “in the strongest terms.” The 26-year-old South African Paralympian gold medallist sobbed inconsolably as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing his lover, blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius hides his face in his hands in a Pretoria court yesterday during a hearing on charges of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Pic/AFP

Crying in court
The double amputee was an inspirational hero of last year’s London Olympics. But yesterday he sat hunched and silent except for audible weeping as the court heard that prosecutors will argue the murder was premeditated, a weightier charge that would carry a life sentence. A bail hearing was delayed until Tuesday to allow the defence more time to prepare.

He will be kept in police custody until then.In a statement issued by Pistorius’ family and management company after the court appearance the fallen star said “the alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.” He also offered his condolences to those close to his former lover. “Our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family — regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Steenkamp, who was due to appear in a celebrity reality show from this weekend, was shot four times at Pistorius’ upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of Thursday. The pre-recorded show filmed in an exotic location in Jamaica features the model and several local personalities competing for one million rand ($113,500) prize money. Trailers for the series show a beaming Steenkamp clad in a bikini. Producers said they had decided not to shelve the show, which will premiere two days after she was shot dead at Pistorius’ home.

Reeva in TV show
“As we grieve today with Reeva’s family and friends and struggle to make sense of this shocking tragedy, it has taken much deliberation to come to the decision to continue screening Tropika Island of Treasure 5 as planned. This week’s episode will be dedicated to Reeva’s memory,” executive producer Samantha Moon said in a statement.

She was killed with his 9mm pistol, suffering wounds to the head and hand and died at the scene. The Beeld newspaper, which first broke the dramatic news of his arrest, said yesterday the shots that killed Steenkamp were fired through a bathroom door but there has been no police confirmation.
After the shooting Pistorius’ apparent fall from grace has captured the attention of millions, with press from around the world cramming the courtroom to cover events.

Better-known as ‘Blade Runner’ because of his carbon fibre prostheses, Pistorius has inspired millions by becoming the first double-amputee to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at the Olympics. “Oscar’s Bloody Valentine” was the headline in South Africa’s most popular tabloid, the Daily
Sun. Police were called to Pistorius’ home at around 4:00 am by neighbours who heard gunshots.

But they poured cold water on initial reports that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp, his girlfriend since late last year, after mistaking her for a
burglar. Pistorius was publicly adored in his native South Africa, but questions had been raised about his colourful private life that was replete with glamorous girlfriends, guns and fast cars.

“Obviously we are shocked,” his father Henke Pistorius said. Steenkamp, once an FHM cover girl, was described as “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth,” by Sarit Tomlins of her management agency.

Domestic disputes
Police revealed there had been previous allegations of domestic disputes at Pistorius’ home. In 2009, Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party. He has often spoken publicly about his fondness for guns. Last year he told a newspaper he sleeps with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars.

There are an estimated 1.5 million gun owners in South Africa, where crime remains a major problem. Many residents keep weapons at home and equip their houses with electric fences and panic buttons that summon heavily armed guards within minutes. In November, Pistorius tweeted about arriving home and hearing the washing machine “and thinking it’s an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry!”

Pistorius is also known as an adrenaline junkie, with a love of speed reflected and motorbikes. Four years ago he crashed his boat in a Johannesburg river breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw. But his problems off the track were eclipsed by his athletics success.

Pistorius won gold in the 4x100m relay and the 400m individual at the Paralympic Games in London. He was triple gold medallist in the Beijing games in 2008.  Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11-months-old after being born without lower leg bones.

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