The bullet that stopped Oscar’s career

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Murder accused Oscar Pistorius File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko

Pretoria - While many couples were still exchanging Valentine’s gifts and the day was looking particularly rosy, the news broke: a woman was shot dead at Oscar Pistorius’s home on an exclusive estate in the east of Pretoria.

Details emerged quickly: the shooter was Oscar Pistorius and the victim was his girlfriend of a few months, model and reality TV star Reeva Steenkamp.

Within hours double-amputee Pistorius was arrested. Wearing a grey hoodie he was taken to the Mamelodi Hospital for tests and then on to the Boschkop police station.

Word spread across the globe and international news crews descended on the country, everyone wanting to know how the young man known as “Blade Runner” had ended up in a police holding cell. The darling of the 2012 London Olympics, it seemed inconceivable that he had shot dead his girlfriend.

During his first court appearance, scores of local and international media flocked to the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court for Pistorius’s bail application.

Minutes after the Paralympic gold medallist walked into the dock of a hot, packed, courtroom on February 15, he was transformed into a sobbing murder suspect - charged with premeditated murder.

During the course of his four-day bail application, the State’s version, as well as that of Pistorius, was disclosed. But it was not only the court proceedings that were covered in detail - every aspect of Pistorius’s life became headline news.

His friends, his behaviour towards previous girlfriends and his love for firearms all came under the spotlight.

Hours before his first appearance more than 150 people crammed into courtroom C of the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court and court security had their hands full trying to keep inquisitive spectators under control.

As the crammed courtroom rose when Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair arrived, a dapper Pistorius entered through a wood-framed side door dressed in a dark grey suit, a light blue shirt and a conservative striped tie.

Father Henke, sister Aimee and brother Carl watched in disbelief as the murder charge was read and “Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius” wept with his head bowed and his hands clasped in front of his eyes.

After his bail application was postponed to the next week, Pistorius had to face the reality that he would be spending the next few days in prison.

His lawyers had sought a postponement to allow them more time to build arguments for his release.

His advocate, Barry Roux SC, requested he be detained at the Brooklyn police station and assured the court it was not “preferential treatment” but would make consultations easier.

The following week, a visibly distressed Pistorius broke his silence and gave a detailed version of the events that led to the death of Steenkamp.

In an affidavit, Pistorius denied he had any intention to kill Steenkamp and said he failed to understand how he could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder.

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” Pistorius said in his statement.

The court heard that he was not wearing his prosthetic legs and was watching TV in bed while Steenkamp was doing yoga.

He said he always slept with his 9mm pistol under his bed as he was wary of intruders.

As a prominent sports figure, who earned R5.6 million a year and had received several death threats before, he was acutely aware of the possibility of intruders.

Pistorius said he fell asleep and later woke up to close the sliding door to the balcony. It was then that he heard a noise in the bathroom. Feeling scared and vulnerable without his prosthetic legs, he screamed at the intruder.

Without switching on the light, he fired four shots through the door and yelled at Steenkamp to call the police.

After the shooting, he walked back to the bedroom and realised Steenkamp was not in bed.

At that moment it dawned on him that it could have been her in the bathroom and he immediately put his prosthetic legs on.

The court heard he ran out on to the balcony and called for help, then reached for his cricket bat to break down the toilet door inside the bathroom.

Pistorius said he immediately called Johan Stander, head of security at the estate, and a Netcare911 ambulance. He unlocked the front door and went back upstairs to fetch Steenkamp with the intention of taking her to hospital.

While carrying Steenkamp’s limp body down the stairs he was met by estate security at the front door.

But the court proceedings were not without controversy when it emerged that lead investigating officer Hilton Botha was himself facing attempted murder charges and he was pulled from the case. It emerged that he was facing attempted murder charges relating to an incident in December 2011 where he allegedly fired shots at a minibus taxi.

Pistorius, who was granted bail under strict conditions, appealed against Nair’s ruling in March and had the conditions amended in the Pretoria High Court.

He is now allowed to travel overseas, use alcohol in moderation and will not have to subject himself to the supervision of a probation officer.

As for Botha, he resigned from the police and joined a private security company.

Pistorius had also taken a financial knock. He lost his endorsements and advertisements featuring him were also pulled. And although he was able to travel he was not up to participating in sporting events.

In an 11-page indictment served on Pistorius on August 19, the day that would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday, the State set out its case claiming that Steenkamp had locked herself in the toilet cubicle to protect herself after the couple had been arguing.

It stated that Pistorius had the intention to kill, as he pointed a firearm knowing the person behind the door could be killed should he fire shots.

The State intends proving its case by calling witnesses from the estate who allegedly heard a woman scream followed by a moment of silence then gunshots and more screaming.

In response to Pistorius’s defence that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder, the State said an error in persona will not affect the intention to kill a human being.

Last month the State notified Pistorius that he would be facing more charges.

In an apparent effort to paint Pistorius as recklessly trigger-happy with his firearms he was slapped with an additional two gun charges.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) served his legal team with a new indictment containing two additional charges, the first of which dates to September 2010.

The State contends that these new charges are in contravention of the Firearms Control Act, related to “reckless endangerment”, firing a gun in a built-up area or any public place, and of negligent damage to property.

“The accused, who is the licensed owner of a 9mm pistol, fired a shot through the sunroof of the car while travelling on a public road. There were other passengers in that car,” the indictment reads.

The indictment said they were travelling near Modderfontein, north-east of Joburg.

While the indictment does not state who the passengers were, it is believed one of them was Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor.

The second new charge dates to January this year and relates to an incident at Tasha’s restaurant.

In the months following Steenkamp’s death, there have been a number of interviews with her family who painted a picture of a hard-working, loving daughter who was helping to support her family.

What happened on that fateful morning will be decided by the Pretoria High Court where the trial is due to be held in March.

Pretoria News

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