Family's pain as court looms for Pistorius

Last updated 07:41 19/02/2013
A frame-grab from SABC shows a tribute devoted to slain model Reeva Steenkamp, girlfriend of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.

REEVA STEENKAMP: 'In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here,' says her mother.

Pistorius
Reuters
CHARGED: South African 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius breaks down during his first court appearance in Pretoria.

Family prepares for model's funeral

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The family of Oscar Pistorius' slain girlfriend wants answers, her mother told a Johannesburg newspaper, as South Africans braced to hear why prosecutors believe a national hero murdered the model who was shot multiple times.

June Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother, told The Times in a front page interview published on Monday (local time): "Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?"

"Just like that she is gone," the newspaper quoted her as saying in what it described as an emotional telephone interview. "In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here."

Pistorius, who remains in custody in a red-brick, one-storey police station in Pretoria, is set to return to court on Tuesday (tonight, NZT) for the start of his bail hearing.

It will be the first opportunity for the prosecution to describe evidence police gathered against the 26-year-old double-amputee runner and the reasons why he was charged with murder. Prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated.

Pistorius' family denies he committed murder though they have not addressed whether he shot her. When word first emerged about the killing there was speculation in the local media that Steenkamp had been mistaken for an intruder in Pistorius' home. Police have said that was not something they were considering.

In an email to The Associated Press, 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," Ampie 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."

Pistorius' top sponsor, Nike, said in a brief statement that it "has no plans for Oscar Pistorius in upcoming campaigns". They declined to give any further information.

While Pistorius goes to court, Steenkamp's funeral will also be held in her hometown of Port Elizabeth on South Africa's southern coast, her family said. It is to be a private ceremony at a local crematorium, closed to the public and media.

"We're just taking things one day at a time," Reeva Steenkamp's brother Adam Steenkamp said outside the family home. "But at the moment it's family coming together and the one person who would be the strongest, who held us all together, is unfortunately not here anymore - and that's my sister."

A 29-year-old blonde model, law graduate and reality TV contestant, Reeva Steenkamp died last week of multiple gunshot wounds inside Pistorius' upscale house in a gated community in the eastern suburbs of the capital, Pretoria.

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Police said they arrived in the predawn hours of Thursday - Valentine's Day - to find paramedics trying to revive Steenkamp and said that she had been shot four times. A 9 mm pistol was recovered from the scene. Pistorius was arrested and charged with murder the same day.

Prosecutors said in Pistorius' first court appearance on Friday that they would pursue a more serious premeditated murder charge against the Olympian and world's most high-profile disabled athlete.

In a statement initially given only to the AP and two South African reporters over the weekend, Arnold Pistorius, Oscar's uncle, said the prosecution's own case would show there was no murder.

"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation," he said, "and that the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all."

The bail hearing, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, will be the first time both the prosecutors and defence will show their hands about the evidence involved in the killing, said Stephen Tuson, an adjunct law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"There will kind of be a little trial within a trial," Tuson said of the start of a court case that will likely grip South Africa and much of the world - possibly for years.

Due to the gravity of the charges, Pistorius' defence lawyers will present their case first, trying to argue that their client is not a danger to the public and won't try to flee to avoid trial, Tuson said. They'll also have to show that he won't try to intimidate witnesses, nor pose a risk of sparking public unrest, the professor said.

The defence does have the opportunity to put Pistorius - who broke down and wept in his first appearance in court - on the stand to offer testimony on his own behalf. That likely won't happen, as prosecutors would then be allowed to ask him potentially incriminating questions, Tuson said.

Typically, defence lawyers read a prepared statement in court instead.

From there, prosecutors will offer their own version of events, likely bolstered by testimony from the lead investigator in the killing, Tuson said.

Pistorius has been in custody in Brooklyn police station in Pretoria since Friday. His agent said there is no way to predict if he will ever run track again.

"For me it's too early to comment," Peet Van Zyl said. "I think it's still a huge shock and tragedy that took the world by surprise so I can't comment on that one (Pistorius' future career) or give any timeline to that at this point in time."

Coach Louw, who is significant for convincing Pistorius to take up track a decade ago and starting him on his journey to worldwide fame, said he had been around Pistorius and Steenkamp, and she often accompanied the athlete to training.

"I found her to be delightful, very friendly ... and I found the two of them to be very happy in each other's company," Louw said.

- AP

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