As Reeva Steenkamp was being cremated Tuesday, South African sports hero Oscar Pistorius told a waiting-with-bated-breath courtroom that he killed his girlfriend by accident, shooting her three times through the bathroom door because he thought she was a home invader.
Those inside the jammed courtroom listened intently as Pistorius, also known as “Blade Runner” because he competed as a track star with blade-like prosthetics, disputed through his lawyer that Steenkamp, a popular model, was killed in premeditated murder, as the prosecution claims.
At his bail hearing, the double amputee said in an affidavit read by his attorney that he left his bedroom and heard a noise in the bathroom. He said he felt vulnerable because he did not have on his prosthetics, and fired three shots into the locked bathroom door.
Then, Pistorius said in the statement, that he realized that model Steenkamp was not in his bed.
“It filled me with horror and fear,” he said.
He put on his prosthetic legs, tried to kick down the door, then bashed it in with a cricket bat to find Steenkamp, 29, shot inside. He said he carried her downstairs, but “she died in my arms.”
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel on Tuesday charged the 26-year-old Olympian with premeditated murder, alleging he took the time to put on his prosthetics and walk some seven meters from the bed to the bathroom door before opening fire. A conviction for premeditated murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
South Africans — and many around the world — are stunned by the Valentine’s Day shooting. Pistorius was a hero for overcoming a birth defect to become a sports champion, competing in the London Olympics last year in track in addition to being a champion Paralympian.
Steenkamp was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a South African reality TV program that was broadcast on Saturday, two days after her death.
The magistrate ruled that Pistorius faces the harshest bail requirements available in South African law.
Nel told the court that Pistorius fired into the door of a small bathroom where Steenkamp was cowering after a shouting match. He fired four times and three bullets hit Steenkamp.
“She couldn’t go anywhere. You can run nowhere,” Nel said. “It must have been horrific.”
Pistorius sobbed softly as his defense 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 breaking down of the door. “We submit it is not even murder. There is no concession this is a murder.”
Outside the court, several dozen singing women protested against domestic violence and waved placards urging Pistorius be refused bail. “Pistorius must rot in jail,” one placard said. Steenkamp lobbied diligently against domestic violence and rape.
South Africa has some of the world’s worst rates of violence against females and the highest rate in the world of women killed by an intimate partner, according to a study by the Medical Research Council.