'Blade Runner' weeps as he faces murder charge

Last updated 09:43 16/02/2013
Reuters

Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee para-Olympic gold medal winner, appears in court on charges he murdered his girlfriend. Julie Noce reports.

Oscar Pistorius
Reuters
MURDER CHARGE: Oscar Pistorius weeps in court as he is charged in court with the murder of his girlfriend. Reeva Steenkamp.
MURDER CHARGE: Oscar Pistorius, right, and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a picture in Johannesburg last week.
Reuters
BEFORE THE STORM: Oscar Pistorius, right, and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a picture in Johannesburg last week.
Oscar Pistorius
CHANGING PERCEPTIONS: Oscar Pistorius was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400 metre semifinals in London 2012.

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Oscar Pistorius held his head in his hands and wept openly in court as prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against the Paralympic superstar.

Pistorius was formally charged at Pretoria Magistrate's Court with one count of murder after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV show participant, was shot multiple times and killed at Pistorius' upmarket home in the predawn hours of Thursday (local time).

His family and management company have issued a statement saying the alleged murder is denied in the "strongest terms".

"Firstly, and most importantly, all our thoughts today must be with the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp," the statement said.

"Oscar Pistorius has appeared in court here in Pretoria this morning formally charged with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.

"Oscar Pistorius has made history as an Olympic and Paralympic sportsman and has been an inspiration to others the world over.

"He has made it very clear that he would like to send his deepest sympathies to the family of Reeva.

"He would also like to express his thanks through us today for all the messages of support he has received - but as stated our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family, regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in court it was premeditated murder, indicating the prosecution would file that more serious charge, upgraded from murder.

William Booth, a prominent defence lawyer from Cape Town, said this likely indicated police had evidence Pistorius planned the killing ahead of time.

He said the charge also made it more difficult for Pistorius to successfully apply for bail but it could be a challenge to get a conviction.

''It's quite difficult to prove that in a situation where there isn't a witness,'' he said. ''If I just plan it in my mind and I arrive at somebody's house and there's no witnesses and I shoot the person, it's really tough for the prosecution to show that planning.''

The double-amputee athlete's arrest and murder charge had already left South Africa stunned after the blonde-haired model's shooting death at Pistorius' house in a gated community in an eastern suburb of the South African capital, Pretoria.

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Those who knew Pistorius, including a former girlfriend, weighed in on social media.

Trish Taylor, mother of Pistorius' ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor, wrote on Facebook: "I'm so glad Sammy is safe and out of the clutches of that man."

But another ex-girlfriend, Jenna Edkins, defended the accused man Tuesday on Twitter.

"All I am saying is let him speak, let his side be heard without jumping to conclusions," tweeted Jenna Edkins, an attractive, young blonde like all Pistorius' girlfriends. She offered "love and support" to the Pistorius family and tweeted: "I have dated Oscar on and off for 5 YEARS, NOT ONCE has he EVER lifted a finger to me or made me fear for my life."

Gianni Merlo, who co-authored the 2009 biography ''Blade Runner'' with Pistorius, said he had once driven out in the middle of the night to see his first love after a fight.

Pistorius crashed his car when he fell asleep behind the wheel, though Merlo said it showed his devotion. 

However, he said Pistorius once threw a friend's girlfriend out of his house, prompting police to investigate and take him in for questioning.

''He explained that this was a kind of (plot) against him, planned against him,'' Merlo said.

Prosecutors said they would argue the history-making Olympic athlete - the first amputee to run at the games - had planned Steenkamp's killing. It sent South Africans reeling further as their national hero and a global role model for people in overcoming adversity was set to face accusations that he intentionally gunned down his girlfriend.

South Africa's tabloid Citizen newspaper had the headline "Blade gunner?" Friday morning, playing on double-amputee athlete Pistorius' well-known nickname of "Blade Runner" because of his carbon fiber running blades.

Pistorius stood with his face in his hands as he broke down in tears on his first appearance at the Pretoria Magistrates' Court. Chief Magistrate Desmond Nasir delayed Pistorius' bail hearing until next Tuesday and Wednesday and ruled that the 26-year-old Pistorius would be held at a police station in Pretoria until then. Police have said they oppose the granting of bail.

Pistorius had solemnly entered the court wearing a gray suit and blue tie and initially appeared composed. When he broke down in tears, his brother, Carl, reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder. Pistorius' father, Henke, was in the court as was sister Aimee.

The hot courtroom that was jammed with more than 100 people, including numerous local and international journalists. More than 100 people packed into Courtroom C at the courthouse, including dozens of photographers and videographers but Nasir ruled that no recordings of court proceedings would be allowed in the case.

Police said an autopsy on the body of the victim was also taking place. Lt Col Katlego Mogale said the results of the autopsy would not be published.

Pistorius earlier left a police station, his jacket completely covering his head as he got into a police vehicle. He was holding what appeared to be a white handkerchief in one hand as he was led by officers to a police van outside the Boschkop Police Station in eastern Pretoria, where he had been questioned on Thursday and had spent the night in custody.

A policeman was also seen carrying a handgun in a plastic forensic bag outside the Boschkop station. It was believed to be the weapon used to shoot and kill Steenkamp.

Police said the victim was shot four times at Pistorius' villa in a gated community. Officers found a 9 mm pistol inside the home.

Pistorius made history at the London Olympics last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete at any games. He didn't win a medal but did make the semi-finals of the 400 metres and the final of the 4X400 relay, propelling the world's best-known Paralympian to the level of an international track star and one of the world's best-known sportsmen.

But police hinted at a troubled lifestyle away from public scrutiny for the runner when they said there had previously been domestic incidents at Pistorius' home.

- Reuters and AP

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