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Girlfriend's mom: Why did Olympian Oscar Pistorius do this?

Published February 18, 2013 8:46 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

JOHANNESBURG • The family of Oscar Pistorius' slain girlfriend wants answers, her mother told a Johannesburg newspaper, as South Africans braced to hear why prosecutors believe a national hero murdered the model who was shot multiple times.

June Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother, told The Times in a front page interview published Monday: "Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?"

"Just like that she is gone," the newspaper quoted her as saying in what it described as an emotional telephone interview. "In the blink of an eye and a single breath, the most beautiful person who ever lived is no longer here."

Pistorius, who remains in custody in a red-brick, one-story police station in Pretoria, is set to return to court Tuesday for the start of his bail hearing. It will be the first opportunity for the prosecution to describe evidence police gathered against the 26-year-old double-amputee runner and the reasons why he was charged with murder. Prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated.

Pistorius' family denies he committed murder though they have not addressed whether he shot her. When word first emerged about the killing there was speculation in the local media that Steenkamp had been mistaken for an intruder in Pistorius' home. Police have said that was not something they were considering.

In an email to The Associated Press on Monday, Pistorius' longtime track coach — who was yet to comment — said he believes the killing was an accident.

"I pray that we can all, in time, come through this challenging situation following the accident and I am looking forward to the day I can get my boy back on the track," Ampie Louw wrote in his statement. "I am still in shock following the heart-breaking events that occurred last week and my thoughts and prayers are with both of the families involved."

Pistorius' top sponsor, Nike, said in a brief statement to the AP on Monday that it "has no plans for Oscar Pistorius in upcoming campaigns." They declined to give any further information.

While Pistorius goes to court, Steenkamp's funeral will also be held Tuesday in her hometown of Port Elizabeth on South Africa's southern coast, her family said. It is to be a private ceremony at a local crematorium, closed to the public and media.

"We're just taking things one day at a time," Reeva Steenkamp's brother Adam Steenkamp said outside the family home. "But at the moment it's family coming together and the one person who would be the strongest, who held us all together, is unfortunately not here anymore — and that's my sister."

A 29-year-old blonde model, law graduate and reality TV contestant, Reeva Steenkamp died last week of multiple gunshot wounds inside Pistorius' upscale house in a gated community in the eastern suburbs of the capital, Pretoria.

Police said they arrived in the predawn hours of Thursday — Valentine's Day — to find paramedics trying to revive Steenkamp and said that she had been shot four times. A 9 mm pistol was recovered from the scene. Pistorius was arrested and charged with murder the same day.

Prosecutors said in Pistorius' first court appearance Friday that they would pursue a more serious premeditated murder charge against the Olympian and world's most high-profile disabled athlete.

In a statement initially given only to the AP and two South African reporters over the weekend, Arnold Pistorius, Oscar's uncle, said the prosecution's own case would show there was no murder.

"We have no doubt there is no substance to the allegation," he said, "and that the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or indeed any murder at all."

The bail hearing, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, will be the first time both the prosecutors and defense will show their hands about the evidence involved in the killing, said Stephen Tuson, an adjunct law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"There will kind of be a little trial within a trial," Tuson said of the start of a court case that will likely grip South Africa and much of the world — possibly for years.

Due to the gravity of the charges, Pistorius' defense lawyers will present their case first, trying to argue that their client is not a danger to the public and won't try to flee to avoid trial, Tuson said. They'll also have to show that he won't try to intimidate witnesses, nor pose a risk of sparking public unrest, the professor said.

The defense does have the opportunity to put Pistorius — who broke down and wept in his first appearance in court — on the stand to offer testimony on his own behalf. That likely won't happen, as prosecutors would then be allowed to ask him potentially incriminating questions, Tuson said.

Typically, defense lawyers read a prepared statement in court instead.

From there, prosecutors will offer their own version of events, likely bolstered by testimony from the lead investigator in the killing, Tuson said.

Pistorius has been in custody in Brooklyn police station in Pretoria since Friday. His agent told the AP that there is no way to predict if he will ever run track again.

"For me it's too early to comment," Peet Van Zyl said. "I think it's still a huge shock and tragedy that took the world by surprise so I can't comment on that one (Pistorius' future career) or give any timeline to that at this point in time."

Coach Louw, who is significant for convincing Pistorius to take up track a decade ago and starting him on his journey to worldwide fame, said he had been around Pistorius and Steenkamp, and she often accompanied the athlete to training.

"I found her to be delightful, very friendly ... and I found the two of them to be very happy in each other's company," Louw said. JOHANNESBURG • South Africa's prosecutors will begin explaining Tuesday why they accuse Olympian Oscar Pistorius of committing murder in the Valentine's Day shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius hasn't entered a plea in the case, though his family has said they strongly deny the 26-year-old double-amputee runner committed murder. They have not, however, denied outright that Pistorius shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law school graduate who is featured in a South African reality television show.

Here are some facts about the case that has shaken a nation that idolized the runner:

THE BLADE RUNNER

Pistorius made history in the London Games last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympics. He's known as "the Blade Runner," a nickname that plays off the high-tech carbon-fiber blades that he races on. Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday because of a congenital condition, and campaigned for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. He was initially banned because of his blades — which critics said gave him an unfair advantage — before being cleared by sport's highest court in 2008. In 2011, he won a silver medal at the world championships having been the first amputee runner to ever compete there.

THE MODEL GIRLFRIEND

Steenkamp is a local celebrity in South Africa, known for appearing in both domestic and international commercials. She's also known for her vampy, bikini-clad photo spreads in men's magazines. She was named one of the world's 100 Sexiest Women for two years running by FHM magazine. She met Pistorius in November at a race track near Johannesburg and ended up accompanying him to a sports award show the same night, a mutual friend has said. She also was a contestant on "Tropika Island of Treasure 5," a reality television show sponsored by a milk-fruit drink now being aired on South Africa's national broadcaster SABC.

THE VALENTINE'S DAY KILLING

In the predawn hours of Feb. 14, police officers arrived to Pistorius' home in a gated community in the suburbs of South Africa's capital, Pretoria. There, police say they found paramedics trying to resuscitate Steenkamp, whose body lay in a pool of her own blood. Police say officers found a 9 mm pistol and arrested Pistorius, who they say was the only other person in the home at the time of the shooting. Pistorius later underwent DNA testing and had samples of his blood collected. Investigators also conducted an autopsy on Steenkamp's body, though police declined to give any information about what they found. They have said she was shot multiple times in the attack. Police have not offered a motive for the killing and Pistorius' uncle Arnold later said that "the state's own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a premeditated murder or murder as such."

PISTORIUS' PAST

Pistorius has had troubles in the past in his personal life. In February 2009, he crashed a speedboat on South Africa's Vaal River, breaking his nose, jaw and several ribs and damaging an eye socket. He required some 180 stitches to his face. Witnesses said he had been drinking, and officers found alcoholic beverages in the wreckage, though they did not do blood tests. In November, Pistorius was involved in an altercation over a woman with a local coal mining millionaire, South African media reported. The South African Police Service's elite Hawks investigative unit became involved before the two settled the matter. Pistorius had a fondness for guns and once tweeted about him searching his house once with a pistol, looking for an intruder.

THE BAIL HEARING

The bail hearing Tuesday and Wednesday in Pretoria will see prosecutors offer Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair evidence about the killing to bolster their arguments that Pistorius should be denied bail and held until his trial. That evidence likely will include specific details about the killing and why they believe the athlete killed Steenkamp — things that police have been hesitant so far to release publicly. Pistorius likely will offer a plea in the case, as he didn't in a brief court appearance Friday. Pistorius' lawyers will likely try to show that he is not a flight risk and represents no danger to the community if he's free until trial. Prosecutors have said they'll pursue a premeditated murder charge against Pistorius, which could make it more difficult for him to be granted bail. Nair will hear both the prosecution and the defense, then issue a ruling about whether Pistorius will be allowed bail. That could include Nair asking Pistorius to put up cash for his release, as well as the athlete giving up his passport and setting other restrictions. If Pistorius is held without bail until trial, he will be transferred from the local police station he's currently being held in to prison, likely in Pretoria.

JUSTICE IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is one of a few countries in the world that that has a court system that takes root in Roman-Dutch law. Because of this, those appearing in criminal trials do not have the option of a jury trial, common in the United States and other countries. Instead, a single judge will hear the entire case and then rule on a person's guilt or innocence. The judge can be assisted by two advisers during the trial. Typically, those advisers offer assistance in looking at the more technical aspects of the evidence given at trial. If found guilty, a person can later appeal the ruling or the sentence they receive. A premeditated murder charge carries a minimum sentence of life in prison. There is no death penalty in South Africa.

REACTION TO THE CASE

The day of the shooting, companies quickly removed billboards and advertising featuring Pistorius. One pulled an Internet ad for Nike showed Pistorius starting to sprint in his blades, with the caption: "I am the bullet in the chamber." Pistorius' agent was forced to cancel all the athlete's future scheduled races. Pistorius' sponsors — including big-name brands like Nike and eyewear manufacturer Oakley — are sticking by him, the agent said.

AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.