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'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius weeps as he faces murder charge

February 15, 2013|By Robyn Dixon | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee revered in South Africa for overcoming his disability to compete in the London Games last year, wept in court Friday as he faced a murder charge in connection with the fatal shooting of his girlfriend.

During the proceedings in Pretoria, Gerrie Nel, one of the National Prosecuting Authority’s most senior advocates, said he would argue the killing of model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp was premeditated murder, the most serious category of offense under South African law.

Nel is known for prosecuting high-profile cases, including winning the conviction of former police chief and Interpol boss Jackie Selebi on corruption charges.

Pistorius, nicknamed the "Blade Runner" because of the carbon-fiber prosthetic legs he uses to compete, did not enter a formal plea and was remanded into custody at Brooklyn police station in Pretoria until Tuesday, when his bail application is to be heard.

Under South African law, a suspect charged with such a high-level offense would have to prove exceptional circumstances to be granted bail.

In a packed courtroom, members of Pistorius' family struggled to pass through a media scrum and to find seats. The hearing coincided with "Black Friday," a day when people were being urged to wear black to protest rapes and violence against women.

[Updated, 8:35 a.m. Feb. 15: The family and Pistorius' management company later issued a statement denying that the athlete had murdered his girlfriend, saying: "The alleged murder is disputed in the strongest possible terms."

Some details of Pistorius' argument and the state's case are expected Tuesday.]

The famed athlete's court appearance came as South African media reported that he shot Steenkamp, his girlfriend of several months, four times through a bathroom door.

Under South African law, a person who fatally shoots an intruder has to prove he or she had a reasonable fear that the intruder posed a real threat to his or her life.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of gun homicides in the world, with killings of women by intimate partners the leading cause of female homicide in the country. About 57% of female homicide victims were killed by their partners in 2009, according to a report last year by the Medical Research Council.

One-third of female homicides were committed by partners with a history of prior violence against their partners, according to the report.

Friends of Steenkamp and Pistorius mourned the incident on social media.

"Drained, confused, I just can't wrap my head around things," one of Pistorius’ close friends, Alex Pilakoutas, posted on Twitter.

Darren Fresco, who described himself as one of Steenkamp’s best friends said he was hoping to wake from a nightmare and hear her infectious laughter again.

"We were just goofing off the other day talking to each other in only the way that we could to each other. My heart is on the verge of exploding with the pain of such a sudden loss of one of my best friends," Fresco, who said he was one of the last people to exchange tweets with Steenkamp, posted on Facebook.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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