Murder Charge Against Oscar Pistorius Upgraded

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Oscar Pistorius faces the most serious murder charge available under South African law after a court heard on Tuesday that he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp while she was "unarmed, innocent and sitting in a toilet."

Oscar Pistorius, center with head covered, leaves the Brooklyn Police Station. (AP)
Pistorius is likely to remain incarcerated until he faces trial, after prosecutor Gerrie Nel laid out the case against him regarding the tragic events of Steenkamp's Valentine's Day death, and chief magistrate Desmond Nair agreed that for the purposes of bail he should face a schedule 6 murder charge, which requires that the killing was premeditated.
Pistorius will now have to prove "exceptional circumstances" if he is to have any chance of earning bail.

Just as in his preliminary hearing on Friday, Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics, regularly broke down into tears as defense attorney Barry Roux and Nel debated over the issue of premeditation during his bail hearing at Pretoria Magistrates Court.

The prosecution asserted an element of cold-blooded intent, putting forward that Pistorius had gotten up from his bed, put on his prosthetic limbs and fired four shots through a locked bathroom door, three of which struck and killed the deceased.

Roux, however, insisted the matter was "not even murder," sticking resolutely to the theory that Pistorius had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder.

"All we know is that she locked the bathroom door and he shot, thinking she was a burglar," Roux told the court.

Meanwhile, 700 miles away in Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp was laid to rest in a small cremation ceremony involving members of her family and close friends, including South African international rugby star Francois Hougaard, who reportedly texted Steenkamp just before her death.

While the Steenkamp's family insisted they were trying to avoid all coverage of the Pistorius hearing, her friend, former professional jockey Gavin Venter, spoke out angrily. "[Pistorius] is a danger to the public, he will be a danger to witnesses, he must stay in jail," Venter told 567 Cape Talk radio.
As the bail hearing got underway, a moment of pandemonium erupted in the halls outside the courtroom, as officials insisted only 26 journalists be allowed inside as more than 100 clamored to be among the chosen few.

This mention is worthy because the South African media has already been a huge part of this sad tale, and make no mistake, will continue to be so.

The nature of the South African judicial system, which abolished jury trials in 1969 at a time when that nation's tortured racial history was approaching breaking point, means that a single judge, perhaps accompanied by one or more technical experts, will decide Pistorius' case.

That means that the typical media reporting restrictions that would be in place for a jury trial in the United States or most other legal jurisdictions based on the English common law system do not apply. In America, the kind of details that were reported over the past few days would not have been permitted under contempt of court regulations, for fear that its publication could influence the minds of potential jurors.

Not so in South Africa, and the level of coverage, thanks primarily to apparent leaks in the South African police force, has been both detailed and graphic. The City Press newspaper, led by award-winning author Adriaan Basson, gave an in-depth account citing a police source that told how a bloody cricket bat would form a key part of Nel's submission to the court. (As of this publication, Nel had not mentioned the bloody bat in court.)

And then the speculation began.

Did Steenkamp use the bat in self-defense? Was she struck with it? Did Pistorius use it to smash down the bathroom door at that luxury residence that remains a murder scene? Other snippets were relayed: that Steenkamp was found in her nightwear, that she had slept in the runner's bed (seemingly quashing the "intruder" defense), that her iPad was found on Pistorius' bedroom floor and that she was shot while sitting on the toilet.

Reeva Steenkamp's casket arrives ahead of her funeral ceremony in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (AP)
Other publications ran their own versions, with their own sources and their own details. But some of the details from different outlets conflicted – some reports have the first shot being fired inside Pistorius' bedroom, others say it was through the bathroom door – leaving the unedifying reality that some of the information disseminated to the public is false, while being reported as fact about a case that will determine one man's liberty and a young woman's justice.

The pros and cons of this judicial approach divides even legal theorists – a heavyweight struggle between freedom of the press and the individual's right to a fair trial – but one thing is for certain: Oscar Pistorius can be thankful that this matter will be decided by one man because public opinion – influenced in no small part by the media "revelations" – has already presumed him guilty.

"All I am saying is let him speak, let his side be heard without jumping to conclusions," Pistorius' former girlfriend Jenna Edkins tweeted on Saturday, though her account has not been verified.
Later she added, "I would just like to say, I have dated Oscar on off for 5 YEARS, NOT ONCE has he EVER lifted a finger to me , made me fear for my life.."

Whatever your thoughts on Pistorius, innocent until proven guilty he is clearly not, at least not in the minds of the majority. The most salacious and, sadly, the most bloodthirsty verbiage will always garner the greater attention. Nothing coming from the Pistorius camp or any other means, like being ditched by Nike, could deflect from the report in City Press about that cricket bat allegedly recovered from Pistorius' luxury home in the Silver Lakes gated complex.

Police cast doubt on City Press' source, but not necessarily the article's content, and in any case we will never know where the information truly emanated from. South African law protects publications from having to reveal their sources.

On the flip side, the Pistorius camp has had its say, using its own entitlement for public persuasion allowed by the South African system. Pistorius was visibly full of grief at his preliminary hearing last Friday, shaking, gasping and bent over double in the dock. Yet either he or someone very close to him had the presence of mind to ensure that public relations guru Stuart Higgins had arrived in Pretoria from London less than 48 hours after Steenkamp was found dead.

Higgins is a man well-versed in hard-fought public image campaigns, having waged them on both sides of the media divide, first as editor of top-selling British tabloid The Sun and then as an adviser to companies, sporting franchises, athletes and public figures in need of a shiny image makeover.

Right now Higgins, who sat in the second row just behind Pistorius' father and brother during Tuesday's court proceeding, is merely in damage control mode and it may be that he is fighting an impossible battle. First there was Pistorius' uncle (not his legal team) issuing a firm denial of the premeditated murder charge, then his "best friend" Justin Divaris regaling Pistorius' anguish at the "accident," then the story that the runner would sue photographers over certain snapshots taken of him in court as they intruded into his grief.

It all seemed to matter little when Steenkamp's mother June issued the following heart-wrenching comment to South Africa's Times newspaper: "Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?"

And so the process continues and the frenzy will surely show little sign of abating between now and the trial. Meanwhile the conjecture will go on as to the fairness of the system, but it won't stop the public appetite for the tale of a superstar athlete potentially murdering his cover-girl lover, one that makes irresistible reading, viewing and listening for all but the most morally disciplined.
The bail hearing continues.

Now his side of the story

In an affidavit, Oscar Pistorius made the following statement which was read out in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday by his lawyer.

(This transcript is unverified and will be updated with the official version as soon as the court makes it available)

I am an adult male, SA citizen and applicant in this application and seek to be released on bail.

I make this affadavit of my own free will and have not been influenced. Contents is true and correct.

I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder because I had no intention to kill my girlfriend.

I have been informed I have been acused of murder – I deny the accusation.

Nothing can be further from the truth that I planned the murder of my girlfriend.

I have no intention to relocate as I love my country.

I earn R5.6m a year. I’ve never been convicted of crimes.

I deny that I committed murder in the strongest point. Even though I don’t have to, I want to deal with these allegations.

Reeva had bought me a present for Valentine’s Day. We were deeply in love.

We were deeply in love and couldn’t be happier. I loved her and I know she felt the same way.

On 13 Feb Reeva would have gone out with her friends, me with mine. She wanted to stay at home.

By about 22h00 we were in my bedroom. I was watching TV. My legs were off. She was doing yoga. At the end of the evening we got into bed.

I’m accutely aware of people gaining entries to homes to commit crime, I’ve received death threats.

I sleep with my 9mm under my bed. I woke up to close the sliding door and heard a noise in the bathroom.

I was scared and didn’t switch on the light. I got my gun and moved towards the bathroom. I screamed at the intruder because I did not have my legs on I felt vulnerable. I fired shots through the bathroom door and told Reeva to call police.

I walked back to the bed and realised Reeva was not in bed. Its then it dawned on me it could be her in there.

I rushed back into the bedroom and opened the sliding door onto the balcony and screamed for help.

I put on my prosthetic legs, ran back to the bathroom and tried to kick open the toilet door.

I think I must have then turned on the lights.

I went back into my bedroom and grabbed my cricket bat to bash open the toilet door.

I called paramedics and complex security. I tried to carry her down stairs for help.

I tried to help her but she died in my arms. I am mortified.

With the benefit of hindsight I realise that Reeva went to the bathroom when I went to close the balcony door.

I trust the South African legal system and the facts will show that I did not murder Reeva.

I believe the forensic evidence will prove what I am saying. I used a cricket bat to break open toilet door.

I am an international sports star, I will not evade my trial.

After the shooting I did not flee the scene. I remained until the police arrived.

I dont know of any witnesses in this matter, and I won’t interfere with any witnesses.

My continued incarceration will be of “no benefit” to the state. Release would not disturb the public order.