Paralympian Oscar Pistorius has denied murdering his girlfriend in the “strongest terms” and offered his “deepest sympathies” to her family.
As the South African athlete appeared in court on Friday to face a murder charge, his family and management company issued a statement that said: “Firstly, and most importantly, all our thoughts today must be with the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp.
“Oscar Pistorius has appeared in court here in Pretoria this morning formally charged with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.”
The statement added: “Oscar Pistorius has made history as an Olympic and Paralympic sportsman and has been an inspiration to others the world over.
“He has made it very clear that he would like to send his deepest sympathies to the family of Reeva.
“He would also like to express his thanks through us today for all the messages of support he has received – but as stated our thoughts and prayers today should be for Reeva and her family, regardless of the circumstances of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
Pistorius, 26, broke down and wept uncontrollably in court as prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against him. He is accused of shooting dead Steenkamp, a model and reality TV show participant, at his home in the early hours of Thursday morning.
It has been claimed that Pistorius will plead he mistook her for a burglar, and a South Africa media report on Friday reported he shot four times through a bathroom door. Police have not disclosed details and there has been no verification of the claim.
Pistorius, his hair short and neat, solemnly entered the packed courtroom wearing a grey suit and blue tie. He quickly broke down, putting his hands to his face, his trauma reflected in the faces of watching photographers.
“Take it easy,” chief magistrate Desmond Nair told him. “Come take a seat.”
As proceedings continued, Pistorius repeatedly lost his composure. When the magistrate used the phase “premeditated murder” the athlete leaned forward as if trying to bend over double, his head bowed, sobbing and shaking.
Nair announced the case as “the state versus Mr Oscar Leonard Pistorius” involving a charge of one count of murder. The prosecution said the charge was premeditated murder, indicating the prosecution would file that more serious charge.
Nair presided over the hour-long hearing in a hot courtroom crammed with more than 100 people, including numerous local and international journalists. The magistrate ruled that no recordings of court proceedings would be allowed in the case.
Pistorius’s father, Henke, was in court, as was his brother Carl, sister Aimee and other supporters of the double-amputee runner. At one point Henke leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on Pistorius’s back; at another, Carl put a hand on his shoulder.
Controversial South African businessman Kenny Kunene, wearing sunglasses, was also present, saying he had come to support his friend Pistorius. The hearing was relatively informal with court attendees wearing T-shirts and jeans, and journalists frequently tweeting from phones. Yet the man in the dock was evidently inconsolable.
The magistrate delayed Pistorius’s bail hearing until Tuesday and ruled the 26-year-old would be held at a Pretoria police station until then, despite a likely perception of “preferential treatment”, since it would be more common for the accused to be detained in prison.
Family members reached forward to touch Pistorius’s shoulder as he stood and left the courtroom while cameras clicked and flashed.
The Paralympic champion had arrived at court earlier in the back of a police vehicle, hiding his face with a jacket and A4 notebook pressed to the window.
Forensic experts are expected to continue examining the house in the upmarket estate on the outskirts of Pretoria where Steenkamp, 29, was killed.
Pistorius made history in London last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympic Games as well as the Paralympic Games.
The tragedy dominated South African TV, radio and newspapers, with the Times front page headline stating: “Oscar’s darkest day”.
Stuart Higgins, a former editor the Sun and now a PR consultant, has flown out to South Africa to help co-ordinate the Pistorius family’s media strategy.
By The Guardian