(PRETORIA, South Africa) — Olympian Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday denied that he willfully killed his girlfriend, telling a South African court that he shot the woman through his bathroom door because he believed she was an intruder.
The 26-year-old athlete was charged on Tuesday with premeditated murder, or a Schedule 6 offense, which under South African law limits his chances for parole if convicted.
Pistorius, a double-amputee who gained worldwide fame for running on carbon-fiber blades, is accused of shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his gated home in Pretoria, South Africa, on Feb. 14.
In a statement read by his lawyer, the runner said he and Steenkamp went to bed together before he was awoken by a noise he thought was an intruder coming from the bathroom.
Filled with a “sense of terror,” he removed the 9-mm pistol he kept hidden under his bed and, without putting on his prosthetic legs, began shooting through the bathroom door, according to his statement.
It was only then that Pistorius realized Steenkamp was not in bed, he said in the statement. Fearing she was inside the bathroom, he said, he broke down the door using a cricket bat and carried the woman outside, where he called for help, and she soon died.
Pistorius appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since his Valentine’s Day arrest, as prosecutors laid out their case, insisting that the runner could not have mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder.
Prosecutors said Steenkamp had arrived at the house with the expectation of spending the night with Pistorius. They said that Steenkamp was shot while in the bathroom, which is about 21 feet from the main bedroom, and that the two rooms are linked by a passage. The door to the toilet was broken down from the outside, prosecutors said, implying that the bathroom door had been locked.
Prosecutors believe it’s a case of premeditated murder because, they say, Pistorius had to stop, put on his prosthetic legs, grab a gun and then walk 21 feet to a bathroom.
The premeditated murder charge means that Pistorius would likely be sentenced to life in prison if convicted, and that he is likely to be denied bail, which is expected to be decided later on Tuesday.
The prosecution had said that the defense would no doubt argue for the charge to be downgraded to a Schedule 5 offense, but that was clearly wrong, according to the prosecution.
In a Schedule 5 offense, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that it would be in the interest of justice to keep the accused behind bars and not release him on bail. A Schedule 6 offense is a more serious category, wherein the defense has to prove that it would be in the interest of justice to release the accused person on bail.
The defense had made it clear on Tuesday that it would argue that Pistorius thought a burglar was inside that bathroom. The defense said prosecutors have no way to prove that he knew who was in there, and that they are prepared to submit evidence of other men who have shot wives and children, mistaking them for burglars.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, a private memorial service is planned for Steenkamp. As Pistorius stood before the court, Steenkamp’s body was being transported to Port Elizabeth.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN