A statement from the family of Oscar Pistorius and his management released yesterday disputes “in the strongest terms” the premeditated murder charge prosecuters laid against him for the Valentine’s Day shooting of his supermodel girlfriend.
The statement came hours after the Olympic and Paralympic superstar, 26, appeared in court where the state prosecution said they would argue that the death of Reeva Steenkamp, 30, in the early hours of Thursday was pre-meditated.
“The charge is murder,” said Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. The prosecution will argue it was “premeditated murder”, the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, added.
The Pistorius statement, issued from London, said: “The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms.” It also said that Pistorius “would like to send his deepest sympathies to the family of Reeva”.
Known worldwide as “Blade Runner” because of his carbon-fibre prostheses, Pistorius has inspired millions by becoming the first double-amputee to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
Pistorius will be held in a police station in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, until Tuesday, when he appears again for a bail hearing.
Earlier in the day, Pistorius had stood with head bowed in front of magistrate Desmond Nair to the hear the murder charge read out, then started sobbing, covering his face with his hands.
“Take it easy,” Mr Nair told him. “Come take a seat.”
A solemn Pistorius entered the court wearing a grey suit and blue tie and initially appeared composed. When he broke down in tears, his brother, Carl, reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder. Pistorius’s father, Henke, was in the court and later reached over to comfort him as well.
The statement added that Pistorius “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”.
The Beeld newspaper, which first broke the dramatic news of his arrest, said that the shots that killed Steenkamp were fired through a bathroom door, but there has been no police confirmation.
She was shot with his 9mm pistol, suffering wounds to the head and hand and died at the scene.
Pistorius’s dramatic fall from grace has brought into sharp perspective his colourful private life, which was replete with glamorous girlfriends, guns and fast cars.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, Pistorius was open about his love of guns. The article described him talking about how he had pulled a pistol to search his home when his alarm went off. He also spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party in 2009.
Trish Taylor, the mother of one of Pistorius’s former girlfriends, Samantha Taylor, wrote on Facebook: “I’m so glad Sammy is safe and out of the clutches of that man.”
But another former girlfriend, Jenna Edkins, defended Pistorius in messages on Twitter. “All I am saying is let him speak, let his side be heard without jumping to conclusions,” she wrote.
The case has sent South Africans reeling as their national hero, and a global role model in overcoming adversity, faces accusations that he intentionally gunned down his girlfriend. South Africa’s tabloid Citizen newspaper had the headline “Blade gunner?” “Oscar’s Bloody Valentine” was the headline in South Africa’s most popular tabloid, The Daily Sun.
Police were called to Pistorius’s home at about 4am by neighbours who heard gunshots in the early hours of Thursday. But they poured cold water on initial reports that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for a burglar.
South Africa’s M-Net cable TV channel pulled adverts featuring Pistorius off air but most of his sponsors, including sports-apparel group Nike, said they would not make any decisions until the police investigation was completed.
Pistorius’s endorsements and sponsorships, which include the British telecoms firm BT, are thought to be worth as much as US$2 million (Dh7,3m) a year.
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters