South Africa: Murder so shocking on Val day
The 26-year-old South African Paralympian gold medallist sobbed inconsolably as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing his lover, blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.
The double amputee was an inspirational hero of last year’s London Olympics.
But on Friday he sat hunched and silent except for audible weeping as the court heard that prosecutors will argue the murder was premeditated, a weightier charge that would carry a life sentence.
A bail hearing was delayed until Tuesday to allow the defence more time to prepare.
He will be kept in police custody until then.
In a statement issued by Pistorius’s family and management company after the court appearance the fallen star said “the alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.”
He also offered his condolences to the those close to his former lover.
“Our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family — regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Steenkamp, who was due to appear in a celebrity reality show from this weekend, was shot four times at Pistorius’s upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of Thursday.
The pre-recorded show filmed in an exotic location in Jamaica features the model and several local personalities competing for one million rand ($113,500) prize money.
Trailers for the series show a beaming Steenkamp clad in a bikini and other skimpy clothing.
Producers said they had decided not to shelve the show, which will premiere two days after she was shot dead at Pistorius’s home.
“As we grieve today with Reeva’s family and friends and struggle to make sense of this shocking tragedy, it has taken much deliberation to come to the decision to continue screening Tropika Island of Treasure 5 as planned,” executive producer Samantha Moon said in a statement.
“This week’s episode will be dedicated to Reeva’s memory.”
She was killed with his 9mm pistol, suffering wounds to the head and hand and died at the scene.
The Beeld newspaper, which first broke the dramatic news of his arrest, said Friday the shots that killed Steenkamp were fired through a bathroom door but there has been no police confirmation.
After the shooting Pistorius’s apparent fall from grace has captured the attention of millions, with press from around the world cramming the courtroom to cover events.
Better-known as “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre prostheses, Pistorius has inspired millions by becoming the first double-amputee to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
“Oscar’s Bloody Valentine” was the headline in South Africa’s most popular tabloid, the Daily Sun.
Police were called to Pistorius’s home at around 4:00 am by neighbours who heard gunshots.
But they poured cold water on initial reports that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp, his girlfriend since late last year, after mistaking her for a burglar.
Pistorius was publicly adored in his native South Africa, but questions had been raised about his colourful private life that was replete with glamorous girlfriends, guns and fast cars.
“Obviously we are shocked,” his father Henke Pistorius told AFP.
Steenkamp, once an FHM cover girl, was described as “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth,” by Sarit Tomlins of her management agency.
Born in Cape Town, she grew up in Port Elizabeth where she graduated with a degree in law from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Police have revealed there had been previous allegations of domestic disputes at Pistorius’s home.
In 2009, Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
He has often spoken publicly about his fondness for guns. Last year he told a newspaper he sleeps with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars.
There are an estimated 1.5 million gun owners in South Africa, where crime remains a major problem.
Many residents keep weapons at home and equip their houses with electric fences and panic buttons that summon heavily armed guards within minutes.
In November, Pistorius tweeted about arriving home and hearing the washing machine on “and thinking it’s an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa.”
Pistorius is also known as an adrenaline junkie, with a love of speed reflected in a passion for motorbikes. Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw.
Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but his blood alcohol content was not tested.
Until now his problems off the track had been eclipsed by his athletics success.
The Johannesburg-born athlete won gold in the 4x100m relay and the 400m individual at the Paralympic Games in London. He was triple gold medallist in the Beijing games in 2008.
He was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11-months-old after being born without lower leg bones.