Sharp-suited but sombre-faced, a visibly emotional Oscar Pistorius walked into Pretoria magistrates courtroom C, bowed his head in the dock and prayed.
On what would have been his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s 30th birthday, Mr Pistorius was formally indicted for her murder. The charge comes months after the Paralympian gold medallist shot Ms Steenkamp to death with his 9mm pistol through a bathroom door on Valentine’s Day morning.
Turning his back to the bank of snapping camera shutters, the “Blade Runner” – as he was known, due to the prosthetic legs he wears – grasped the hands of his brother Carl and sister Aimee, closing his eyes to the packed public gallery.
The magistrate, Desmond Nair, asked the athlete if he was well. “Under the circumstances,” Mr Pistorius replied.
The state prosecutor Gerrie Nel announced the “mutually agreed” trial date as 3 March 2014. The indictment specifies two charges: “planned or premeditated” murder, and the illegal possession of ammunition. It describes how prosecution witnesses “heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and more screaming”. Mr Pistorius has admitted shooting his girlfriend, saying he believed Ms Steenkamp to be an intruder.
Speaking to a small group of journalists outside, a National Prosecuting Authority spokesman, Medupe Simasiku, said the trial period could be extended, but they were hoping to avoid any further delays.
“The police did a very sterling job, within these few months having a full case ready for court,” he said, “We are getting ready. We need to make sure that everything is in place.”
Mr Simasiku says they will not necessarily call all the witnesses identified on the hefty list accompanying the indictment to testify. The 107 names notably include Pistorius’ ex-girlfriends Melissa Rom and Samantha Taylor, Ms Steenkamp’s ex-boyfriend Warren Lahoud, the former lead investigator Hilton Botha, Pistorius’s firearms trainer, and some of the model’s closest friends.
One witness who might take the stand, Ms Steenkamp’s housemate and best friend Gina Myers, attended the hearing, sitting across the aisle from the Pistorius siblings, huddled with her family for support amid her tears. The Myers family, with whom Ms Steenkamp lived while pursuing her modelling career in Johannesburg, made an emotional statement outside the courtroom.
“Now more than ever, her memory lives on for her friends who cannot forget the lasting effect she had on everyone she met,” their lawyer and spokesman Ian Levett read.
Steenkamp family members gathered in her small hometown of Port Elizabeth to celebrate what would have been a milestone birthday.
Mr Pistorius’s bail conditions remain unchanged, so he will be able to compete abroad until the trial.