IN THE DOCK: Pistorius faces a premeditated murder charge
SOUTH AFRICAN sporting icon Oscar Pistorius is facing a charge of premeditated murder as prosecutors build their case against him.
The double amputee Paralympian and Olympian is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria. It is alleged he shot her four times, and the prosecution told the court the lethal rounds were fired through a bathroom door.
The 26-year-old defendant wept, as he did on his first court appearance, when he heard the charges at the bail hearing in Pretoria. However, defence lawyers countered the charges and said the killing of Steenkamp was “not even murder”.
The bail hearing took place at the same time the family of Steenkamp, a model and media personality, held a private funeral in Port Elizabeth for the 29-year-old.
Speculation and rumour has been rife around the case. Unfounded stories that Pistorius mistook his girlfriend for a home intruder circulated the morning the incident became public last Thursday (February 14).
Police denied the theory came from them, but did confirm to reporters that there had been “previous” domestic incidents at the household in the gated community protected by armed guards.
Over the weekend, local newspaper City Press reported that police discovered a “bloodied cricket bat” at the premises, and that it was central in building a murder case into the death.
According to the paper, police are investigating three possible scenarios for how the cricket bat was used: Pistorius used it to assault Steenkamp; she wielded it in self-defence; or the Olympian smashed down a door with it to get to her.
Police have neither denied or confirmed the existence of the cricket bat.
At the bail hearing, prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court Pistorius had attached his prosthetic legs before walking seven metres (24ft) and then fired his 9mm pistol through the bathroom door.
He added that Steenkamp was shot four times and struck three times by the athlete, who then broke down the door and carried her downstairs.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius shot through the door without knowing the identity of the person inside the bathroom. He told the court his client had not murdered Steenkamp and that the prosecution had no evidence for premeditated murder, let alone murder.
Once both arguments had been heard, the judge ruled the Paralympian should face a “Schedule 6” charge – premeditated murder. Nonetheless, the magistrate retained the right to downgrade his ruling whenever necessary.
The sprinter’s defence team face an uphill struggle to enable him to be bailed. Police have argued against bail, but Pistorius’ lawyers have argued he poses no flight risk or danger to the general public.
If found guilty of the charge, Pistorius could be handed a sentence of life imprisonment. Police have held him in a local Pretoria police station cell since his arrest. Normal procedure in the country sees defendants transferred to the local prison.
However, the authorities saw no reason to in this case, which drew criticism from some quarters that the sports star was receiving special treatment.
The case and impending trial is generating significant interest in South Africa and the world, largely because of Pistorius’ hard-luck story of overcoming the odds – being born without fibula bones in both legs – and going on to be the first track and field athlete to compete in both Paralympics and Olympics.
The mother of Pistorius’ late girlfriend, June Steenkamp, spoke of her grief to one of the country’s national newspapers.
"All we want are answers... answers as to why this had to happen, why our beautiful daughter had to die like this", she told Times of South Africa.
Yet the father of the athlete, Henke Pistorius, maintained that he had "zero doubt" Steenkamp’s death was the result of a tragic accident.
The case continues.