South African Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius tearfully denied the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, telling a court he repeatedly shot at her through a locked bathroom door believing she was an intruder.
“I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva,” Pistorius said in an affidavit at a court hearing in the capital Pretoria, his first public comments on the Valentine’s Day killing.
The 26-year-old double amputee track star broke down in tears repeatedly as his own words filled the court: “We were deeply in love and couldn’t be more happy.”
“I had no intention to kill my girlfriend,” he said in the affidavit read out by his lawyer as Pistorius sat in the dock, struggling to hold his composure.
As the court hearing was under way, Steenkamp was being laid to rest at an emotional private ceremony at a crematorium in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.
The “Blade Runner” who became an inspiration to millions when he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, faces a charge of premeditated murder, which will likely result in remand without bail and, if convicted, a life sentence behind bars.
Pistorius said the couple, who had been dating since late last year, had spent the evening at his upscale Pretoria home watching television and with 29-year-old Steenkamp doing yoga.
He awoke in the dead of night “filled with horror and fear” that someone was in the bathroom and said he felt “very vulnerable” because he did not have his prosthetic legs on.
“I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police.
“Reeva was not responding. When I reached the bed, I realised that Reeva was not in bed.
“That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet.”
After breaking down the door with a cricket bat, Pistorius said “Reeva was slumped over but alive”. She died a short time later in his arms.
Prosecutors argued that far from being an accident, Steenkamp’s death was a premeditated act of murder.
Gerrie Nel, prosecuting, told the court Pistorius had armed himself, put on his prosthetic legs, walked 7m, and fired four shots into the bathroom door, hitting a terrified Steenkamp three times, fatally wounding her. “She could go nowhere,” Nel said.
There was no decision on bail yesterday, with court proceedings delayed until this morning.
Magistrate Desmond Nair said he could not rule out that there was some planning involved in the killing, which may be considered as a premeditated murder for the purposes of bail.
But Pistorius’s legal team rejected the claims as he sought to argue he was not a flight risk. “I have no intention to relocate to any other country as I love my country,” he said.
Pistorius revealed he earned 5.6m rand (€478,000) a year and owned the €425,000 house in the gated estate where the killing took place and two other homes.
Pistorius, who 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.
In 2009 Pistorius — who once admitted to a newspaper that he slept with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars — spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth, tearful friends and family said goodbye to Steenkamp, whose cloth-draped coffin with white flowers laid on top was carried into a chapel in the south-eastern coastal city where she grew up.
“There’s a space missing inside all of the people that she knew that can’t be filled again,” her brother Adam, who gave the eulogy, told reporters afterwards.
“We’re going to keep all the positive things that we remember and know about my sister and we will try and continue with the things that she tried to make better. We’ll miss her.”
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.
Pistorius’s career has been put on hold since the shooting, forcing him to cancel races in Australia, Brazil, Britain, and the US between March and May.
As Roux read the statement, Pistorius sobbed unrestrainedly, prompting magistrate Desmond Nair to halt proceedings for several minutes. “You need to concentrate on what’s going on,” Nair told him.
The case has drawn further attention to endemic violence against women in South Africa after the gang-rape, mutilation, and murder of a 17-year-old near Cape Town this month.
Members of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress protested outside the court, waving placards saying: “No Bail for Pistorius” and “Rot in jail”.
Before Pistorius’s testimony, Nel, the lead prosecutor at the bail hearing, painted a picture of premeditated killing, which carries a life sentence in South Africa.
“If I arm myself, walk a distance, and murder a person, that is premeditated,” he told the courtroom, arguing that Pistorius had time to think about what he was doing. “The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven metres and I kill.”
“The motive is ‘I want to kill’. That’s it,” he added. “This deceased was in a 1.4m by 1.14m little room. She could go nowhere. It must have been horrific.”
Nair ruled that Pistorius must face the harshest bail requirements available in South African law. That means Pistorius’s 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 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.”
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, Nair stopped the hearing after Pistorius wept as Roux read a portion of the athlete’s statement describing how Steenkamp bought him a Valentine’s Day present, but wouldn’t 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.”
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