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Oscar Pistorius murder case prosecutors tell of screams, gunshots

Track star Pistorius is indicted on charges including premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

August 19, 2013|By Erin Conway-Smith
  • Oscar Pistorius appears in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, where he was indicted on charges in the shooting death of model Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home early Valentine’s Day. A trial is expected to begin in early March.
Oscar Pistorius appears in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, where… (European Pressphoto Agency )

PRETORIA, South Africa — On the night South African athlete Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, neighbors allegedly heard the sound of a woman screaming. Silence followed, and then gunshots. And more screams.

That's the picture prosecutors are painting in the case against Pistorius, who was indicted Monday on charges including premeditated murder in the death of Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home early Valentine's Day. A trial is expected to begin in early March.

Pistorius, a double amputee who used carbon-fiber blades to run in last year's London Olympics, has said he thought Steenkamp, a reality TV star and law school graduate, was an intruder when he shot her repeatedly through a bathroom door.

His brief but emotional appearance at Pretoria Magistrate's Court came on what would have been Steenkamp's 30th birthday.

During a 20-minute wait for proceedings to begin, Pistorius stood with his back to the crush of cameras, hands clasped with his brother Carl and sister Aimee in a quiet prayer. He paused several times to wipe tears from his face.

In the next bench over sat Steenkamp's close friend Gina Myers and her family, arms around each other's shoulders.

Pistorius, 26, has also been charged with illegal possession of ammunition, related to unlicensed bullets found during a search of his home by police. He remains free on bail.

The indictment includes a list of 107 witnesses submitted by the prosecution. The names include friends of Steenkamp, ex-girlfriends of Pistorius, and numerous residents from the Silver Woods Country Estate where Pistorius lived.

The prosecution's charge sheet states that Steenkamp had locked herself in the toilet closet of a bathroom adjacent to the main bedroom in Pistorius' house at just past 3 a.m. on Feb. 14.

Pistorius "armed himself with a 9-millimeter pistol" and fired four shots through the locked door.

"The deceased was wounded and died on the scene," the document says. "The cause of death is given in the post-mortem report as multiple gunshot wounds.

"Some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming."

Prosecutors sketched out their case that Pistorius fired bullets into the door to the toilet closet with the intention to kill.

The argument that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder — described in court documents as an "error in persona" — does not change the fact that he was shooting to kill.

"The accused said to witnesses on the scene that he thought she was an intruder. Even then, the accused shot with direct intention to kill a person," the indictment says.

During a previous hearing, Hilton Botha, the detective originally in charge of the investigation, told the court that police had statements from witnesses who heard an argument in the early hours of Feb. 14.

According to Botha, who has been listed by the prosecution as a witness for the trial, people who lived near Pistorius heard gunshots followed by screams and more gunshots.

If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces life imprisonment and at least 25 years without parole.

Outside the courtroom Monday, the Myers family, with whom Steenkamp lived in Johannesburg, huddled behind their lawyer Ian Levitt as he read a statement on their behalf.

Since the morning of Feb. 14, the statement said, "not a day has gone by that anyone who ever came into contact with Reeva Steenkamp hasn't thought about her."

"Now more than ever, her memory lives on for her friends who cannot forget the lasting effect she had on everyone she met."

Conway-Smith is a special correspondent.

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