PRETORIA (AFP) – South African Olympic star Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears in the dock Friday as he was charged with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend.
The 26-year-old superstar Paralympian gold medallist wept as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing his lover, blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.
The double amputee, an inspirational hero of last year’s London Olympics, sat hunched as the court heard that prosecutors would argue that the murder was premeditated, a charge that could carry a life sentence.
Twenty-nine-year-old Steenkamp, who was due to appear in a celebrity reality show from this weekend, was shot four times at Pistorius’s upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of Thursday.
She was shot with his 9mm pistol, suffering wounds to the head and hand and died at the scene.
The Beeld newspaper, which first broke the dramatic news of his arrest, said Friday the shots that killed Steenkamp were fired through a bathroom door but there has been no police confirmation.
Pistorius had been expected to make an application for bail Friday, but the hearing was delayed until Tuesday to allow the defence more time to prepare and he will remain in police custody until then.
Known worldwide as “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre prostheses, Pistorius has inspired millions by becoming the first double-amputee to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
His apparent fall from grace has equally captured the attention of millions around the world, with press from around the world cramming the courtroom to cover events.
“Oscar’s Bloody Valentine” was the headline in South Africa’s most popular tabloid, the Daily Sun.
Police were called to Pistorius’s home at around 4:00 am by neighbours who heard gunshots.
But they poured cold water on initial reports that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp, his girlfriend since late last year, after mistaking her for a burglar.
Pistorius was publicly adored in his native South Africa, but questions had been raised about his colourful private life that was replete with glamorous girlfriends, guns and fast cars.
“Obviously we are shocked,” his father Henke Pistorius told AFP.
Steenkamp, once an FHM cover girl, was described as “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth,” by Sarit Tomlins of her management agency.
Born in Cape Town, she grew up in Port Elizabeth where she graduated with a degree in law from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Police have revealed there had been previous allegations of domestic disputes at Pistorius’s home.
“There were always rumours attracted to Oscar Pistorius, but most of them I just put down to him being a celebrity,” said Kyle Wood, a 25-year-old fellow resident of the gated community.
In 2009, Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
He has often spoken publicly about his fondness for guns. Last year he told a newspaper he sleeps with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars.
There are an estimated 1.5 million gun owners in South Africa, where crime remains a major problem.
Many residents keep weapons at home and equip their houses with electric fences and panic buttons that summon heavily armed guards within minutes.
In November, Pistorius tweeted about arriving home and hearing the washing machine on “and thinking it’s an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa.”
Pistorius is also known as an adrenaline junkie, with a love of speed reflected in a passion for motorbikes. Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw.
Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but his blood alcohol content was not tested.
Until now his problems off the track had been eclipsed by his athletics success.
The Johannesburg-born athlete won gold in the 4x100m relay and the 400m individual at the Paralympic Games in London. He was triple gold medallist in the Beijing games in 2008.
He was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11-months-old after being born without lower leg bones. But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
Sponsors are now racing to distance themselves from the sprinter.
A South African pay television channel has canned a campaign featuring the runner.
There was no immediate comment from global sports giant Nike on its sponsorship of Pistorius, whom it featured in an advert showing the runner setting off from the starting blocks with the line “I am the bullet in the chamber”.