Friday, February 15, 2013
"Blade Runner" Pistorius faces court on murder charge
By Ed Cropley
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, is due to appear in court on Friday on charges of murdering his girlfriend.
The arrest of the 26-year-old Olympic and Paralympic track star stunned a nation that reveres Pistorius as a hero who triumphed over adversity to compete with able-bodied athletes at the highest levels of sport.
His girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, was found shot dead in his plush Pretoria home in the early hours of Thursday, police said.
Pistorius was led from a local police station wearing a dark suit, his head covered and flanked by police officers before being put into the back of a station wagon to take him to the courthouse.
He had initially been expected to appear in court on Thursday but the hearing was postponed to Friday, National Prosecuting Authority officials said.
Early reports suggested Pistorius may have mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder, but police said neighbours had heard noises before the shots and that there had been previous "domestic" incidents at the house.
Several local media outlets reported that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door. She was hit in the head, chest, pelvis and hand, the Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper said on its website.
South African newspapers plastered the killing across their front pages, relegating a State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma in parliament to a distant second.
The coverage reflected shock and dismay at the fall of a sporting hero who commanded rare respect on all sides of South Africa's racial divides.
"Golden Boy Loses Shine" ran a front page headline in the Sowetan, beside a picture of Pistorius, head bowed in a grey hooded tracksuit being led away from a police station.
Callers to morning radio shows expressed remorse at the death of Steenkamp, who had been due to give a talk at a Johannesburg school this week about violence against women.
There was also widespread disbelief at the fate of a sporting legend regarded as a genuinely "good guy".
"How is it possible for one so high to fall so low so quickly?" Talk Radio 702 host John Robbie said.
A 9 mm pistol was recovered from Pistorius's modern two-storey house in the middle of a heavily guarded gated complex in the northern outskirts of the South African capital.
He was held overnight at Pretoria's Boschkop police station after undergoing medical and forensic examinations, police said. Police have said they will oppose bail.
"He is doing well but very emotional" his lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, told SABC TV, but gave no further comment.
South Africa's M-Net cable TV channel immediately pulled adverts featuring Pistorius off air but most of his sponsors, including sports apparel group Nike, said they would not make any decisions until the police investigation is completed.
Pistorius' endorsements and sponsorships, which also include British telecoms firm BT, sunglasses maker Oakley and French designer Thierry Mugler, are thought to be worth as much as $2 million (1.2 million pounds) a year.
Pistorius, who was born without a fibula in both legs, was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400-metres semi-finals in London 2012.
In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 metres in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, but was quick to express regret for the comments.
South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders, although Pistorius's complex is surrounded by a three-metre high wall and electric fence.
Near the home, people who knew Pistorius recalled a much-loved local hero.
"Some of us were in tears," said Precious, who works at a petrol station where Pistorius used to fill up his McLaren supercar, signing autographs and picking up the tab for people in the convenience store.
"He was just so kind to everyone," Precious said.
Pistorius shot girlfriend through bathroom door - media