Oscar Pistorius case: Premeditated murder or tragic mistake?
Published Tuesday, February 19, 2013 6:10AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 19, 2013 9:21PM EST
Two dramatically different accounts of what transpired the night South African model Reeva Steenkamp died have emerged in a South Africa court.
Steenkamp’s boyfriend and accused killer Oscar Pistorius -- the Olympic and Paralympic athlete known as the “Blade Runner” for his prosthetic legs -- tearfully told a packed courtroom he shot her by mistake, thinking she was a robber.
Pistorius, 26, said he was filled with "horror and fear" when he realized what he had done.
The athlete said in an affidavit read by his lawyers that he wasn't wearing his prosthetic legs and therefore felt vulnerable as he fired bullets through the locked bathroom door in his home in Pretoria, believing a robber was inside. He then realized his girlfriend wasn't in bed.
In the statement, Pistorius said he then strapped on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick the door down. When that didn't work, he used a cricket bat to break through.
He said Steenkamp was still alive at that time, and he picked her up and carried her downstairs, where she "died in my arms."
"I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder, as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp," Pistorius said in the sworn affidavit. "I deny the aforesaid allegation in the strongest terms."
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, however, accused Pistorius of premeditated murder, claiming the runner took the time to put on his prosthetic legs before walking the seven metres to the bathroom door and opening fire.
Nel said the couple had quarrelled, and Steenkamp was cowering inside after a shouting match when Pistorius fired four times, hitting her with three of the bullets.
"She couldn't go anywhere. You can run nowhere," Nel argued. "It must have been horrific."
Pistorius' lawyer said there was little evidence to support a murder charge, noting that even the prosecution's claim the couple had an argument were unsubstantiated.
"Was it to kill her, or was it to get her out?" lawyer Barry Roux asked, referring to the broken-down door. "We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder."
“We were deeply in love”: Pistorius
Roux described the night in dramatically different terms, with the couple spending time together in the athlete’s upscale home in a gated community in Pretoria.
Just before dawn, Pistorius said he awoke to pull a fan in from an open balcony. At the time he did not have his prosthetic legs on.
He said he heard a noise and became alarmed when he noticed the bathroom window was open and that workers had left ladders nearby.
“It filled me with horror and fear,” Pistorius said in the statement. “I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night."
He said he was too frightened to turn on a light and headed for the bathroom, believing his girlfriend was asleep in bed.
He said that as he fired at the closed bathroom door he shouted to Steenkamp to call the police.
He later described his relationship with Steenkamp to the court.
“We were deeply in love and I could not be happier,” he said.
Pistorius sobbed uncontrollably in the courtroom during the hearing. At one point, magistrate Desmond Nair halted proceedings briefly and told him it was important that he pay attention to what was said in court.
Affidavits were read out in court, provided by friends of Pistorius and Steenkamp, describing the couple as happy. They had cancelled separate plans a day earlier to spend Valentine's Day together, one of the statements said.
The bail hearing will resume Wednesday. In South Africa, a conviction for pre-meditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence.
Nair adjourned the case Tuesday without ruling on whether the track star will be granted bail. However he said that the gravity of the charge would require Pistorius’s lawyers to make “exceptional” reasons for bail to be granted.
Funeral held for Steenkamp
Meanwhile, Steenkamp's body was cremated Tuesday during a service at the south coast city of Port Elizabeth. The family said loved ones arrived from all over the world for the private service.
Six pallbearers carried the coffin -- draped in white and covered in flowers -- into the private church service.
"I want to say very much there's a space missing inside all the people that she knew that can't be filled," her brother Adam Steenkamp said after the service. "We're going to keep all the positive things we remember about my sister and try to continue with the things she tried to make better. We miss her."
The 29-year-old Steenkamp was a model and law-school graduate who had also just launched a television career.
Since the shooting several of Pistorius’s sponsors have dropped him, including Clarins Group which owns a line of colognes bearing his image.
With files from The Associated Press