Facing a charge of premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius denied he had intended to take her life when he opened fire at a closed bathroom door at his home last week, saying he did not know she was on the other side.
PRETORIA, South Africa — Facing a charge of premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius — the double-amputee runner who is among the world’s best-known athletes — denied Tuesday he had intended to take her life when he opened fire at a closed bathroom door at his home last week, saying he did not know she was on the other side.
“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,” he said in a sworn affidavit read to the packed courtroom by his defense lawyer, Barry Roux. “I deny the aforesaid allegation in the strongest terms.”
Weeping uncontrollably, the 26-year-old Pistorius listened as his words were read during the opening of a two-day bail hearing.
It was Pistorius’ first public account of the events surrounding the shooting death of Steenkamp, 29, a model, reality-television performer and law-school graduate.
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Steenkamp’s body was cremated Tuesday in her family’s hometown of Port Elizabeth. She had campaigned actively against domestic violence.
The bail hearing was the first time the prosecution and Pistorius provided details of their divergent accounts of the killing.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius committed premeditated murder when he rose from his bed, pulled on artificial legs, walked more than 20 feet from his bedroom and pumped four bullets into the door, three of which struck Steenkamp as she cowered behind the locked door with no hope of escape.
“She couldn’t go anywhere,” Nel said. “It must have been horrific.”
The scenario described by Nel contradicted Pistorius’ statement that described how the couple spent a quiet night together in the athlete’s upscale home in a gated community in the capital of Pretoria and went to sleep around 10 p.m.
Sometime before dawn, Pistorius said he awoke, and walking only on his stumps, pulled a fan in from an open balcony and closed off the balcony. He said that is when he heard a noise and became alarmed because the bathroom window, which had no security bars, was open and workers had left ladders nearby.
“It filled me with horror and fear,” Pistorius said in the statement. “I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes. 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.”
Too frightened to turn on a light, Pistorius said, he pulled out his pistol and headed for the bathroom, believing Steenkamp was still asleep “in the pitch dark” of the bedroom.
“As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself,” he said, adding he shouted to Steenkamp to call the police as he fired at the closed toilet door.
It was then, Pistorius said, he realized Steenkamp was not in bed.
Pistorius said he pulled on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the bathroom door before finally giving up and bashing it in with a cricket bat.
Inside, he said, he found Steenkamp, slumped over but still alive. He said he lifted her bloodied body and carried her downstairs to seek medical help.
But it was too late.
“She died in my arms,” Pistorius said.
“We were deeply in love and I could not be happier. I know she felt the same way. She had given me a present for Valentine’s Day but asked me only to open it the next day.”
Pistorius broke down in sobs repeatedly as his account was read, prompting Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair to call a recess at one point.
“Maintain your composure,” the magistrate said. “You need to apply your mind here.”
“Yes, my lordship,” replied Pistorius, his voice quivering.
Nair adjourned the case until Wednesday without ruling on whether Pistorius would be granted bail. But Nair said the gravity of the charge meant the athlete’s lawyers must offer “exceptional” reasons for bail to be granted, seemingly making the release of the “Blade Runner” unlikely.
If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius would face a mandatory life sentence, though under South African law he would be eligible for parole in 25 years at the latest. South Africa abolished the death penalty in 1995.
Pistorius overcame his disability to compete in last summer’s London Olympics on carbon-fiber blades and became a national hero.
But several companies — including Nike — have now withdrawn lucrative sponsorships and his case has played into an emotional debate in South Africa about violence against women.
Members of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress protested outside the building, waving placards saying: “No Bail for Pistorius,” Reuters reported.
Roux said there was no evidence to substantiate a murder charge against his client.
The prosecutor disagreed.
“It is our respectful argument that ‘preplanning’ or premeditation do not require months of planning,” Nel said. “If … I ready myself and walk a distance with the intention to kill someone, it is premeditated.
“The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill. The motive is, ‘I want to kill.’ That’s it.”
Nel said of Steenkamp: “She locked the door for a purpose. We will get to that purpose.”