Pistorius to be charged with premeditated murder, judge rules

February 19th, 2013 by Staff

(latimes.com) PRETORIA, South Africa — South African prosecutors laid out their case against the double amputee Olympian runner, Oscar Pistorius, in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court Tuesday. As his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, cowered behind a locked door in a tiny bathroom, he strapped on his prosthetic legs, grabbed his pistol, strode seven yards to the door and fired four times through it, killing her, prosecutors alleged.

According to prosecutor Gerrie Nel, Pistorius’ actions amounted to premeditated murder.

In a major blow for Pistorius, Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair sided with the prosecution, ruling that for the purposes of the bail hearing, the charge against Pistorius was premeditated murder, a decision that will make it difficult for Pistorius to be granted bail.

Under South African law, those charged with a category six offense, the most serious category, must show exceptional circumstances as to why they should be released on bail.

Pistorius may now face months in jail before his trial. If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius would face life in prison.

The hearing took place at the same time as Steenkamp’s family held a private funeral in the coastal town of Port Elizabeth.

Tuesday’s hearing was a bail hearing, but some of the main contentions of the prosecution and defense cases were aired.

Pistorius’ defense attorney denied there had been any murder. Pistorius’ family has also made it clear he will plead not guilty when his trial begins.

Nel said there was no evidence available that supported the athlete’s contention that he thought Steenkamp was a burglar and shot her dead by mistake.

“There is no possible information to support his version that it was a burglar,” Nel said.

But even if he had made that mistake, Nel argued, it would still have been a premeditated murder, since he shot through the door into a tiny room, measuring no more than 16 square feet.

He said the couple argued and Steenkamp fled to the toilet, seven yards from the bedroom and locked herself in.

No one would fire into a room of that size hoping to merely scare off a burglar, Nel said, adding that the motive of shooting in that fashion was to kill, since there was no way for Steenkamp to escape the bullets.

“She couldn’t go anywhere. You can run nowhere,” Nel said. “It must have been horrific.”

Nel argued that up until the moment he shot her, Pistorius’ plan was to kill Steenkamp, although afterwards he might have regretted his actions.

Later, he carried her downstairs, leaving a trail of blood, prosecutors said.

Pistorius wept through much of the hearing, while his brother, Carl Pistorius put his hand on the athlete’s back in a gesture of comfort. Asked by Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair if he understood the arguments being mounted, Pistorius replied in a soft, clear voice, “Yes.”

Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, said that the killing was not premeditated.
“It’s not even murder. There’s no agreement there, not even concession that this is murder,” he said, adding that there were many cases of men shooting their wives through doors, mistaking them for robbers.

The main focus of Tuesday’s dramatic court hearing was whether or not Pistorius’ actions amounted to premeditated murder, the most serious category of homicide, requiring Pistorius to show exceptional circumstances to justify his release on bail. If the defense succeeded in persuading Nair that the case merited a less serious charge, Pistorius’ chances of getting bail were expected to improve.

There was no mention in court Tuesday of a bloodied cricket bat allegedly found in Pistorius’ apartment the night of the killing, widely reported in South African media as playing an important role in the state’s case against Pistorious.

The prosecution’ plans for the case were apparently leaked and have been widely aired in South Africa, where there is no jury system and its sub judice rules are not as strict as in many other countries. Magistrates and judges are seen as able to judge the merits of a case without being swayed by media coverage.

As Pistorius’ bail hearing unfolded in Pretoria, Steenkamp’s coffin, draped in a white cloth and decked with white flowers, arrived at the Victoria Park crematorium in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth for a private funeral.

Reflecting the divisions the case has caused in South Africa, officials of the ruling African National Congress Women’s League called for Pistorius to be denied bail. South African Minister for Women’s Affairs Lulu Xingwana joined a group of ANC Women’s League protesters outside Pretoria Magistrate’s Court Tuesday.

“It does not matter what standing Pistorius has in society,” she said. “We want him to be treated like other criminals who have been charged with murder or abuse of women.”

Eastern Cape ANC Women’s League secretary, Nancy Sihlwayi, told reporters in Port Elizabeth that Pistorius “must die in jail,” according to local media reports.

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