After a tearful appearance in court yesterday, the first outlines of Oscar Pistorius’ defence emerged as the Paralympian’s family said he "was happier in his private life than he had been for a long time."
Facing a minimum life sentence if convicted, his defence will be fought both in court and in the media after former Sun editor, Stuart Higgins, flew in to represent him. The public relations troubleshooter, who left the British tabloid in 1998, represented the 26-year-old during the London Olympics and Paralympics.
And today his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said his nephew was "numb with shock, as well as grief."
In a statement to camera on behalf of the family, Mr Pistorius said: "After consulting with legal representatives, we deeply regret the allegation of premeditated murder.
"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation and that the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder."
Speaking of his nephew's relationship with Ms Steenkamp, he said: "They had plans together and Oscar was happier in his private life than he had been for a long time."
Mr Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, said yesterday the defence required time to investigate in order to “put ourselves in a better position to argue the schedule of the offence”. According to friends of the athlete, his lawyers will attempt to argue the killing was a tragic case of mistaken identity, with the track star thinking there had been a break-in at his home in a heavily guarded security estate on the outskirts of the capital, Pretoria.
And South Africa's Beeld newspaper has reported that the alleged victim Reeva Steenkamp was still breathing when security guards and neighbours arrived at the scene early on Thursday, but was pronounced dead by paramedics who arrived shortly afterwards.
The Afrikaans language newspaper reports that security guards rushed to the house upon hearing the gunfire, to find the Paralympic gold medalist running down the stairs carrying the model in his arms.
Paramedics who arrived shortly afterwards were unable to revive her.
And a close friend, who asked not to be named, said they had received a call from Mr Pistorius soon after the shooting in the early hours of Thursday morning and were told by the athlete that there had been a tragic accident. They arrived soon after at Mr Pistorius’ home to find him with a bloody and unconscious Ms Steenkamp. They were told she had been shot after the runner mistook her for an intruder.
In a packed Pretoria courtroom yesterday, after the magistrate held up proceedings to eject cameras, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the more serious charge of premeditated murder was being filed.
As the prosecutor spoke, the Olympic and Paralympic star held his head in his hands and wept, briefly earning the sympathy of Mr Nel who asked him to “take it easy” and “come take a seat”. Mr Pistorius’ brother and father both attended the hearing, occasionally leaning forward to give the athlete a pat on the shoulder.
The bail hearing was delayed until next Tuesday and Pistorius will be held in a Pretoria police station rather than prison in what appeared to be an acknowledgement by authorities of the high profile of the accused.
The prosecution made it clear the case against the athlete, known as the “Blade Runner”, will centre on evidence he “repeatedly and intentionally” shot his 29-year-old model girlfriend as she cowered behind a locked bathroom door.
Police claimed they have evidence that Ms Steenkamp arrived at her boyfriend’s house on Wednesday evening, contradicting the notion that she surprised him during the night.
Neighbours have told police that they heard raised voices during the evening prior to the shooting.
One neighbour quoted in the local media said that security guards from the Silver Woods complex had found Mr Pistorius by Ms Steenkamp’s body in the bathroom. “The door had bullet holes right through it,” they told Beeld.
Mr Pistorius, who earned $2million (£1.2m) a year in endorsements prior to the killing, signalled through his agent that he would fight the charge: “The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms,” the statement read. “Oscar Pistorius has made history as an Olympic and Paralympic sportsman and has been an inspiration to others the world over,” it continued. “Our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family –regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
The shock value of the alleged murder knocked South African President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address off the front pages with one paper headlining: “Golden boy loses his shine”. South Africa’s M-Net has pulled footage of Mr Pistorius from their schedule and a billboard of him advertising the channel’s Academy Awards coverage was removed from the business district of Sandton. Both Nike SA and Oakley SA, which also sponsor the athlete, declined to comment, saying only that they sent condolences to the Steenkamp family.
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