PRETORIA: South African sporting hero Oscar Pistorius insisted yesterday he did not intend to kill his girlfriend after being accused of shooting her repeatedly through a locked bathroom door in what prosecutors said was a “premeditated” Valentine’s Day murder.
“I had no intention to kill my girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp,” the 26-year-old said in an affidavit read out at a court hearing in Pretoria, his first public comments since the Feb. 14 killing.
Magistrate Desmond Nair hinted strongly that the double-amputee Olympian and Paralympian “Blade Runner” would not be released on bail and could face a charge of premeditated murder.
The bail hearing has been adjourned to Wednesday to allow the prosecution time to study affidavits submitted by the defense.
But Pistorius said he fired at the door of the bathroom where his 29-year-old lover was hiding as he was “filled with horrible fear” that someone had sneaked into his luxury Pretoria home through an open window. “I fired shots at the door and shouted at the toilet,” he said in the affidavit. “We were deeply in love and couldn’t be more happy.” Prosecutor Gerrie Nel had told the court Pistorius had armed himself, put on his prosthetic legs, walked seven meters and fired four shots through the locked bathroom door, hitting a terrified Steenkamp three times and fatally wounding her.
“She could go nowhere,” he said, adding that Pistorius had “shot and killed an unarmed innocent woman.”
He said law graduate and model Steenkamp had arrived at Pistorius’s home on Wednesday evening with an overnight bag, seeking to counter claims that the athlete had mistaken her for an intruder. As the court hearing was under way in the South African capital, Steenkamp was being laid to rest at an emotional private ceremony at a crematorium in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.
Pistorius’ career has been put on hold since the shooting, forcing him to cancel races in Australia, Brazil, Britain and the United States between March and May.
Pistorius’s heavyweight legal team rejected claims that the killing was premeditated. “We submit it’s not even a murder. There’s no concession that it’s murder,” said lawyer Barry Roux.
Roux challenged the claim that Pistorius put on his prostheses before shooting and argued the runner believed the person in the bathroom was an intruder. “I will put before court case after case where husbands through accident shot wives... believing it was an intruder,” said Roux. “Is that now preplanned murder?” Roux also claimed Pistorius had broken down the door to help Steenkamp, who had been going out with the athlete since late last year.
Magistrate Nair said he could not rule out that there was some planning involved in the killing, which may be considered as a premeditated murder for the purposes of bail. In Port Elizabeth, tearful friends and family said goodbye to Steenkamp, whose cloth-draped coffin with white flowers laid on top was carried into a chapel in the southeastern coastal city where she grew up.
“It’s kind of only sinking in now that I’m actually here, that she’s really gone,” said Bongiwe Gaxambaa, one of Steenkamp’s classmates at a local private Catholic school. A funeral program simply entitled “Reeva,” with the dates of her birth and death on it, showed a black-and-white portrait of Steenkamp with the words “God’s Gift, A Child” written on the back.
“There’s a space missing inside all of the people that she knew that can’t be filled again,” her brother Adam, who gave the eulogy, told reporters after the ceremony.
“We’ll miss her.”
On Saturday a celebrity television show aired haunting footage of Steenkamp speaking about the need to leave a positive mark on life, words laden with poignancy after her death.
Pistorius, who off the track has a rocky private life of rash behavior, beautiful women, guns and fast cars, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defense.
Stuart Higgins, a former editor of British tabloid The Sun, whose lengthy list of clients includes British Airways, Chelsea FC and Manchester United football club, has taken over his public relations.
One of his lawyers, Kenny Oldwage, defended the driver in a 2010 accident that killed former president Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchild Zenani. The driver was acquitted.