South African sporting hero Oscar Pistorius broke down in court yesterday as he was accused of shooting his model girlfriend through a locked bathroom door in what prosecutors said was a premeditated Valentine's Day murder.
The double-amputee Olympian and Paralympian "blade runner" is seeking bail at a Pretoria court hearing, which revealed startlingly different accounts from the prosecution and defence about how his cover-girl law-graduate lover, Reeva Steenkamp, was killed.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius armed himself, put on his prosthetic legs, walked seven metres and fired four shots through a locked bathroom door at his luxury Pretoria home, 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".
Pistorius said he shot his girlfriend by mistake, thinking she was a robber. In an affidavit read by his lawyer Barry Roux, he said he felt vulnerable because he did not have on his prosthetic legs when he pumped bullets into the locked bathroom door.
Then he realised that Steenkamp was not in his bed. He said: "It filled me with horror and fear."
He put on his legs, tried to kick down the door, then bashed it in with a cricket bat to find Steenkamp, 29, shot inside. Pistorius said he ran downstairs with her, but "she died in my arms".
As the court hearing was under way, Steenkamp was being laid to rest at a private ceremony in her hometown of Port Elizabeth. Amid the grief, some mourners demanded punishment for Pistorius.
"Without a doubt he's a danger to the public. He'll be a danger to witnesses. He must stay in jail. He's already shown how dangerous he can be for what he did to Reeva," said Gavin Venter, an ex-jockey who worked for Steenkamp's father. "She was an angel … so innocent. Such a lovely person. It's just sad that this could happen to somebody so good."
In court, Pistorius broke down in sobs every time Steenkamp's name was mentioned. The 26-year-old - who became an inspiration to millions when he became the first double amputee to run against able-bodied athletes at last year's Olympics - spoke only to confirm he had no previous convictions.
"Yes, your worship," he said in a shaking voice. Magistrate Desmond Nair asked Pistorius to speak up and he repeated the phrase louder.
Pistorius' legal team rejected claims that the killing was premeditated. "We submit it's not even a murder. There's no concession it's murder," Roux said.
Defence lawyers are expected to argue that Pistorius should be freed pending trial, but the state has said it would oppose bail.
The hearing was adjourned until today.
The killing has forced Pistorius to cancel races in Australia, Brazil, Britain and the United States between March and May.
Pistorius, whose nickname was inspired by his custom-built carbon-fibre running blades, had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters