PRETORIA, South Africa, June 04 – A South African court on Tuesday postponed the pre-trial hearing of Oscar Pistorius to August 19 to allow police to wrap up their probe into his Valentine’s Day shooting of model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Looking tense and somber in a grey suit, blue shirt and tie, the 26-year-old Paralympian dubbed the “Blade Runner” briefly appeared in court for the first time since being released on bail over the murder that shattered his hero image.
In a macabre coincidence, his next court appearance will fall on the same day that his slain lover would have turned 30.
The hearing inside the packed courtroom lasted only a few minutes as prosecutors sought, and defence agreed to, a postponement to allow police to complete their probe.
Pistorius is accused of murdering Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day at his upmarket home in the South African capital.
Prosecutors have charged the star sprinter with premeditated murder. Conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The model and law graduate, who had been dating Pistorius for just a few months, suffered gunshot wounds to her head, elbow and hip.
But Pistorius claims he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder in a “terrible accident” and wants the charge reduced to culpable homicide, which risks up to 15 years behind bars.
Magistrate Daniel Thulare on Tuesday lashed out at what he called “a trial by the media” undermining the “sanctity of the courts”.
His words came days after British television channel SkyNews broadcast leaked graphic images showing the blood-spattered bathroom where Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp multiple times through a locked door.
“There appear to be a trial by the media houses of Mr Pistorius,” said Thulare.
The victim’s mother June Steenkamp told Britain’s Channel 5 the couple had had disputes.
“We’ve been fighting, we’ve been fighting a lot,” Reeva once said in a phone call, June recalled.
“She must have been so afraid in the toilet and somebody is firing bullets through the door. And already one bullet had hit her so she must have been in severe pain also,” June said.
“We don’t know what happened. There’s only one person that knows what happened.”
The case is bound to be one of the country’s most sensational trials, similar to that of American footballer and actor O.J. Simpson who was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife in 1994.
Courts in South Africa, one of the world’s most violent countries, have a huge backlog of rape and murder cases. But some observers have suggested that Pistorius may get preferential treatment and a possible fast-tracking of his case.
The Johannesburg-born Paralympic champion became an inspirational hero to millions as the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied competitors at the London Olympics last year.
He was born without fibulae and both his legs were amputated when he was 11 months. His athletic prowess with his trademark blades would later earn him nicknames like “the fastest man on no legs”.
Since the killing, details emerged of his rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars, though his family says he has found solace in the church.
On his aspirations, Oscar would say “God told me I’ve got a purpose in life,” his uncle Arnold Pistorius said in an interview the family made available to media.
He admitted in the past that he slept with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars.
His family said Monday it was shaken by the graphic crime scene photos showing bloodstains on the toilet seat and surrounding floor and the bathroom door marked with two bullet holes just below the handle.
The case is likely to go to the High Court, where a single judge presides, as South Africa does not have a jury system.
The “traumatised” athlete openly wept when he first appeared in court after his arrest.
This time he simply nodded and replied “Yes, Sir” when Thulare reminded him of his bail conditions.
Pistorius was freed on bail of one million rand (100,000 dollars, 78,000 euros) and in March the court lifted a raft of stringent conditions including a travel ban and mandatory drug and alcohol tests.