Pistorius breaks down as he denies murdering girlfriend
Oscar Pistorius denied killing his girlfriend in the "strongest terms" after the South African Paralympian was charged with premeditated murder during a traumatic court appearance.
The 26-year-old broke down in tears as the accusation was read out at Pretoria magistrates' court. If convicted, he faces a life sentence of at least 25 years in a country with some of the most brutal prisons in the world.
His father, Henke, described the death of Reeva Steenkamp, his son's girlfriend, as a "tragic accident".
As a shaking Pistorius was led into the dock, more details emerged about the last moments of the 29-year-old model, who was shot four times at the athlete's home outside Pretoria.
Security guards at the gated community were first to arrive on the scene, reportedly discovering Pistorius standing over Ms Steenkamp's body. Paramedics who arrived shortly afterwards were unable to revive her. She had allegedly been shot through the bathroom door, which had four bullet holes in it.
Police said they were investigating claims that guards at Silver Woods Country Estate had gone to the house two hours before the shooting after neighbours reported a disturbance.
Detectives were also understood to have approached Samantha Taylor, a former girlfriend of Pistorius, who told a local newspaper last year that she was "prepared to reveal what Pistorius made me go through". According to her father, she was asked by police to testify against the athlete.
Yesterday, friends of the double-amputee made a concerted effort to defend his character.
Jenna Edkins, a business student in Johannesburg, wrote that she had dated Pistorius "on and off" for five years.
"Not once has he ever lifted a finger to me (or) made me fearful for my life," she wrote on Twitter. "People must stop jumping on the bandwagon with such hurtful allegations. Os is the loving, amazing inspirational person we know him to be."
Her comments brought a response from Ms Taylor's sister, Kerri-Lee, who tweeted: "Jenna you are such a walk over. How can you support a guy that has taken an innocent life?"
In court, Pistorius twice broke down into tears, once when the magistrate read out the charge, and again when the prosecution made clear that they would be accusing him of premeditated murder.
Henke Pistorius reached out to comfort his son, saying that he did not believe the accusations. "We just want this over with," he said. "Until it's proven otherwise, I can't believe that this was anything but a tragic accident."
Pistorius kept guns in his home, including a revolver by his bed, and was a regular at a local shooting range. "He grew up with firearms and went hunting all the time," said Henke Pistorius, but he denied that his son was gun-obsessed.
A statement released by the family said he would fight the charge against him, saying: "The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest terms".
It added: "Oscar Pistorius has made history as an Olympic and Paralympic sportsman and has been an inspiration to others the world over. He has made it very clear that he would like to send his deepest sympathies to the family of Reeva.
"He 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 court will reconvene next Tuesday to decide whether to grant Pistorius bail until a full trial. Until then, he will stay in a police cell in Pretoria, where his mental state was assessed by a psychologist. Brigadier Denise Beukes, a police spokesman, said he would receive "special visits on a regular basis".
Ms Steenkamp's body was formally identified by a close family friend yesterday and will be flown to her home town of Port Elizabeth, where a memorial service will be held on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed that a reality TV show featuring the model will be shown in South Africa as planned this weekend.
'Tropika Island of Treasure' was filmed in Jamaica and shows Ms Steenkamp and other celebrities competing for a prize of €85,000. (© Daily Telegraph, London)