PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Olympian Oscar Pistorius fired into the door of a small bathroom where his girlfriend was cowering after a shouting match on Valentine’s Day, hitting her three times, a South African prosecutor said Tuesday as he charged the sports icon with premeditated murder.
The magistrate ruled that Pistorius faces the harshest bail requirements available in South African law. He did not elaborate before a break was called in the session.
Pistorius sobbed softly as his lawyer insisted that Reeva Steenkamp‘s shooting was an accident.
“She couldn’t go anywhere. You can run nowhere,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel said at a bail hearing.
The 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, 29, was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a South African reality TV program on Saturday, two days after her death..
Nel said the couple had had a shouting match and Steenkamp fled to the bathroom, down a seven-meter (yard) passage from the bedroom, and locked herself in. He said the 26-year-old Pistorius got up from bed and had to put on his prosthetic legs to reach the toilet door.
Nel told the court the door was broken open after the shots were fired. Pistorius’ lawyer insisted there was no evidence to substantiate a murder charge.
“Was it to kill her, or was it to get her out?” defense attorney Barry Roux asked the court, referring to the browken-down door. “We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder.”
Pistorius, who had appeared grim and solemn at the start of the hearing, broke down and sobbed softly with his head in his hands as his lawyer argued that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar. The shooting in the early hours of Feb. 14 came after neighbors had heard a loud argument and then gunshots, police have said. The couple had been dating for only about three months.
Nel said the killing was premeditated because Pistorius had planned to say that he thought he was shooting an intruder. “It was all part of the preplanning. Why would a burglar lock himself inside the bathroom?” Nel said.
Roux said the shooting was accidental: “We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder.”
In arguing that Pistorius should be freed on bail, he said there were no other charges outstanding against the 26-year-old double-amputee who last year became the first double-amputee track athlete to run at the Olympics.
As the dramatic court hearing was held in the capital, Steenkamp’s body was being driven to a church for a memorial service under gray skies in the south coast city of Port Elizabeth. Six pall bearers carried the coffin draped in white flowers. The family said relatives have gathered from around the world.
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.
Legal experts say it could take months for the case to be tried.
Pistorius, in a gray suit and tie, nodded after the chief magistrate asked if he was well. And he nodded his appreciation when his brother, Carl, pressed his shoulder in support. Journalists jammed into the courtroom, which was full with almost 100 people, including Pistorius’ father, Henke, and the athlete’s sister, Aimee.
In an email to The Associated Press on Monday, Pistorius’ longtime track coach — who was yet to comment — said he believes the killing was an accident.
“I pray that we can all, in time, come through this challenging situation following the accident and I am looking forward to the day I can get my boy back on the track,” Louw wrote in his statement. “I am still in shock following the heart-breaking events that occurred last week and my thoughts and prayers are with both of the families involved.”