Oscar Pistorius appeared in a South African court Tuesday after being charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend, but the double amputee Olympian said he shot her by mistake because he thought she was a robber. To the contrary, the prosecutor called it premeditated murder.
In a sworn statement read by his lawyer at the bail hearing in Pretoria, Pistorius said he felt vulnerable because he did not have his prosthetic legs on when he fired bullets into the locked bathroom door, and then realized that his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was not in his bed.
"It filled me with horror and fear," the athlete said.
Pistorius, 26, then put on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the door of the bathroom. After bashing it in with a cricket bat, he found Steenkamp, 29, shot inside. He said he ran downstairs with her, but "She died in my arms."
The prosecutor charged Pistorius with premeditated murder, alleging he took the time to put on his legs and walk some seven meters from the bed to the bathroom door before opening fire. A conviction of premeditated murder in South Africa carries a mandatory sentence of life in jail.
According to the prosecutor, Pistorius fired four times into the door of a small bathroom where Steenkamp was cowering after a shouting match, with three bullets hitting Steenkamp.
"She couldn't go anywhere. You can run nowhere," prosecutor Nel argued. "It must have been horrific."
Pistorius sobbed softly as his lawyer, Barry Roux, insisted the shooting was an accident and that there was no evidence to substantiate a murder charge.
"Was it to kill her, or was it to get her out?" he asked about the broken-down door. "We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder."
He said the state had provided no evidence that the couple quarreled nor offered a motive.
The prosecutor rebutted: "The motive is 'I want to kill.'"
Meanwhile, as testimony continued in the courtroom today, Steenkamp's body was being cremated at a memorial service in the south-coast port city of Port Elizabeth. The family said members had arrived from around the world. Six pallbearers carried her coffin, draped with a white cloth and covered in white flowers, into the church for the private service.
June Steenkamp, the mother, said the family wants answers.
"Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?" she said in an interview published Monday in The Times newspaper.
Steenkamp was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a reality TV program that aired in South Africa last Saturday, just two days after her tragic death on Valentine’s Day.
Since then, news about the shooting has made headlines around the globe, shocking Pistorius fans who looked up to the double-amputee sports champion for overcoming adversity to compete in the London Olympics last year in track. Pistorius was born without fibula bones and had them amputated when he was 11 months.
For now, however, Pistoria has to get through his Tuesday and Wednesday’s bail hearing, where prosecutors are presenting evidence to support their claim that Pistorius should be denied bail and held until trial. Pistorius' lawyers are expected to counter that he’s not a flight risk, nor is he a danger to the public if he’s free until trial.
Prosecutors have said they'll pursue a premeditated murder charge against Pistorius, which could make it more difficult for him to be granted bail. If Pistorius is held without bail until trial, he will be transferred from the local police station he's currently being held in to prison.