OSCAR PISTORIUS mistook his girlfriend for an intruder and shot her out of "horror and fear", the South African athlete said yesterday.
In his first account of the death of 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp at his home in the early hours of Valentine's Day, Pistorius told Pretoria magistrates' court that he believed burglars were inside his home.
He thought one was hiding inside a bathroom so he fired four shots through the locked door, only to discover Ms Steenkamp inside. "It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders," he said.
"I realised that Reeva was not in the bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet. I returned to the bathroom calling her name. I tried to open the toilet door but it was locked."
Pistorius, a legless sprinter who won two gold medals and a silver at the London Paralympics last year, then broke down the bathroom door with a cricket bat. He found Ms Steenkamp "slumped over but alive". The athlete called for help, but his girlfriend died in his arms.
The prosecution rejects key elements of his account and has charged him with "premeditated murder".
In his version of events – as recounted by his lawyer – the incident was a tragic accident.
Pistorius said he woke to hear the sound of what he thought was an intruder. Grabbing a 9mm handgun from under his bed, the athlete fired through the locked door of a bathroom where he believed the burglar to be hiding only to find that Ms Steenkamp was inside.
"I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms," said the 26-year-old. Pistorius said that he fired four rounds, three of which struck his girlfriend.
At the start of the bail hearing in Pretoria Magistrates' Court, Pistorius seemed determined to maintain the composure that he had lost during his first appearance last week.
But Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, opened by bluntly accusing the athlete of shooting an "innocent and unarmed woman" in what the lawyer described as a "clear case of premeditated murder".
As those words were spoken, Pistorius lowered his head into his hands and wept. When the hearing wore on and his distress increased, his brother, Carl, knelt behind him and put a comforting hand on his back.
Mr Nel told the court that Ms Steenkamp's killing had been "pre-planned" – and this term could apply to a matter of minutes, just as well as hours or days.
Pistorius had "got up from the bed, put on his prosthetics, armed himself, walked seven metres to the bathroom".
Even if Pistorius had believed the person was a burglar, added the prosecutor, he knew the consequences of firing four shots into a room measuring less than 10 square feet. "He wanted to kill and that's clear. He walked to the bathroom and he shot – that's it," said Mr Nel.
As for Ms Steenkamp, he added, the shooting "must have been horrific – she couldn't get away".
He asked why Pistorius had not checked where his girlfriend was before assuming that an intruder was responsible for the noise.
He questioned why any intruder would lock themselves inside a bathroom. Mr Nel also queried why Ms Steenkamp should have used the lock while visiting the toilet in the middle of the night.
But Desmond Nair, the magistrate, had questions of his own. After the shooting, Pistorius broke down the bathroom door with a cricket bat and found his girlfriend still breathing.
He then carried Ms Steenkamp downstairs to seek help, before giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Mr Nair asked how that could fit the prosecution's theory that Pistorius had intended to kill her.
Mr Nel replied: "There's a big argument and you crack, you take out a gun and you fire. It was pre-planned up until the time that he shot her. If he felt bad afterwards, that's another matter."
The magistrate agreed that "premeditated murder" was the correct charge, raising the threshold for the bail application.
If Pistorius is held on remand, he will be consigned to Pretoria Central Prison, which is notoriously violent.
He will probably be deprived of his artificial legs – they could be viewed as a potential weapon
The court will continue considering the bail application today. (© Daily Telegraph, London)