The prosecution in the case against Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track standout accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend, said it planned to charge him with "premeditated murder," the most serious murder charge under South African criminal law.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The prosecution in the case against Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track standout accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend, said it planned to charge him with “premeditated murder,” the most serious murder charge under South African criminal law.
Pistorius made a tearful appearance at a courtroom in the South African capital, Pretoria, on Friday.
Dressed in a gray suit and a blue shirt, Pistorius struggled to maintain his composure. He repeatedly wept, at times sobbing and holding his face in his hands. Pistorius, 26, did not speak or enter a plea.
But later Friday a statement released by his agent said Pistorius disputed the murder charge “in the strongest terms,” and that “our thoughts and prayers today should be” for the victim, Reeva Steenkamp, and her family “regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
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The defense asked Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair for a postponement of the bail hearing and the case was adjourned until Tuesday. Pistorius was sent to a Pretoria police station, where he will remain in custody until his next court appearance.
If convicted, Pistorius faces 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.
The accusation against the man nicknamed “Blade Runner” stunned a nation that had seen him as a national hero who had overcome the acute challenge of being born without fibula bones. He had both legs amputated below the knee as an infant, and became the first Paralympic sprinter to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics in London last year.
Grim-faced and seemingly tired, Pistorius entered the court as the events at his home in Pretoria eclipsed a State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma on Thursday evening and took up the front-page headlines in many newspapers Friday.
“Golden Boy Loses Shine,” said a headline in The Sowetan. “Oscar’s Bloody Valentine,” blared the front page of The Daily Sun, a tabloid.
In editorials, newspapers urged against a rush to judgment.
“It will be up to a judge to decide if there was any criminal culpability,” said an editorial in the Times, a national daily. “Until then, innocence needs to be presumed.”
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in court he would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against Pistorius for allegedly killing Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model perhaps best known for her vamping, bikini pictures in men’s magazines and appearances in cosmetics commercials. Police have said Steenkamp is 30. The discrepancy has not been explained.
To many, Steenkamp’s death was a grim reminder of the violence that pervades South African life. The South African Institute of Race Relations pointed out Steenkamp is one of the 2,500 women murdered in South Africa every year. Gun-control advocates said they hoped her death would lead to a further tightening of gun-ownership rules.
Police said investigators conducted an autopsy on Steenkamp’s body. Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale said the results of the autopsy would not be published.