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‘Blade runner’ sobs in court

- Family defends superstar

Feb. 15: Oscar Pistorius held his head in his hands and wept openly in court today as prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against the athletics superstar.

The family of Pistorius sprang to his defence, saying “The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.” The denial came in a statement issued by Pistorius’s London management company shortly after he broke down in a South African court as the charge against him was read out.

The 26-year-old, who made history last year when he became the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, was arrested yesterday morning after the death of Reeva Steenkamp, a 30-year-old model.

Police said that Steenkamp was hit four times in the head, chest and hand and the bullets came from a 9mm pistol licensed to Pistorius.

Wearing a blue shirt and immaculate navy suit, a grim-faced and trembling Pistorius was led into a courtroom crowded with journalists from around the world.

His father, Henke, and brother, Carl, were in court to support him but he refused to make eye contact with either and stared straight ahead at the magistrate, Desmond Nair, as the hearing got under way.

But as the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, introduced the case — “the State versus Mr Oscar Leonard Pistorius; charge of one count of murder” — the athlete appeared to break down, standing with his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking and sobbing, although with no actual tears.

“Take it easy,” Nair told him. “Come take a seat.”

The case has stunned a nation that revered “the fastest man on no legs” as a hero who managed to compete at the highest levels of sport despite being born without a fibula in either leg.

Pistorius’s mother died in 2002 when he was 15 years old — a tragedy that he said spurred him on in his quest to compete as an able-bodied athlete. At the London Games, he recounted a letter his mother Sheila had written to him: “A loser isn’t the person that gets involved and comes last, but it’s the person that doesn’t get involved in the first place.”

Along with Lance Armstrong’s recovery from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France — an achievement now brought low by his admission of doping — Pistorius’s tale of triumph over adversity was one of the most powerful in the history of sport.

Nel, who successfully prosecuted South Africa’s first black national police chief for corruption, said that the prosecution intended to argue that the killing was an act of “premeditated murder”. Pistorius faces life in prison if found guilty.

Told to sit down as Nair heard a request for cameras to be allowed in court —which he rejected — Pistorius sat staring at the ground. His father and brother, sitting just behind the dock, leant over to put a hand on his back or shoulder, but he did not turn around.

The bail hearing was postponed to next Tuesday. The judge agreed to a defence request that the athlete should remain in police custody until then, rather than prison.

The 26-year-old was arrested yesterday morning after neighbours called police to the exclusive, gated Silver Woods Golf Estate in the South African capital Pretoria.

A South African newspaper reported this morning that Steenkamp had been shot through a bathroom door.

Initial reports suggested that the model might have been mistaken for a burglar, but Brigadier Denise Beuke, a police spokeswoman, said that officers were “very surprised” by that suggestion, adding: “These allegations did not come from us.” There had been previous incidents of a “domestic nature” at the property, she added.

It was not clear from the statement issued in London -- said to be from his family and management company -- how Pistorius intends to defend himself -- nor indeed whether there had been direct contact with the athlete himself.

It 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 said that Pistorius had made history as an Olympic and Paralympic athlete “and has been an inspiration others the world over”.

It added: “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.”


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