By GERALD IMRAY
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Here’s what to know about the night South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp more than a decade ago in a Valentine’s Day killing that jolted the world and shattered the image of a sports superstar.
Pistorius, a world-famous double-amputee sprinter who competed on carbon-fiber blades at the 2012 London Olympics, was released on parole Friday having served nearly nine years in prison for murder.
He has always maintained he shot Steenkamp in a tragic mistake in the predawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013, thinking she was a dangerous intruder in his home in the South African capital, Pretoria. Prosecutors said he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star, intentionally during a late-night argument and then made up the intruder story.
A judge initially accepted Pistorius’ story but South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a lesser manslaughter conviction against him after an appeal by prosecutors and found him guilty of murder.
Pistorius did not deny that he shot four times through a locked toilet cubicle door in his home with his licensed 9 mm pistol, hitting Steenkamp in the head, arm and hip. But the reason for Pistorius opening fire formed the central part of his dramatic 2014 murder trial, which lasted seven months and was broadcast live across the world.
He testified that he heard a noise in the bathroom in the middle of the night and believed there was an intruder in his home. He said he grabbed his gun from under the bed where he had been sleeping next to Steenkamp and went to the bathroom.
When he heard a noise from the cubicle, he fired through the door in what he said he thought was self-defense. Steenkamp was hit on the other side of the door.
Pistorius’ story was attacked by prosecutors, who asked how he did not first check on where Steenkamp was if he was so concerned about a dangerous intruder. They said he even had to walk past Steenkamp’s side of the bed to get to the bathroom.
Pistorius said he had woken up and had gone out onto a balcony to retrieve a fan when he heard the noise from the bathroom and was scared and panicked. He said he rushed to get his gun and presumed Steenkamp was still in bed.
Once he saw Steenkamp was not in bed after the shooting, he realized she might be the person in the toilet, he testified. Pistorius said he had to break down the locked toilet door with a cricket bat in a vain effort to save her.
PROSTHETIC LEGS ON OR NOT?
Prosecutors alleged at the start of the trial that Pistorius had taken the time to put on his prosthetic legs before shooting Steenkamp. They said it showed premeditation and he wouldn’t have done that if he was reacting suddenly to what he thought was a dangerous intruder.
Pistorius’ defense lawyers showed the angle of bullet holes in the toilet door — which was brought into court as an exhibit — proved he fired the shots while standing on his stumps and prosecutors later conceded Pistorius did fire the deadly shots while he did not have his prosthetic legs on. Pistorius’ lawyers even had him walk around the courtroom without his prosthetic legs, hoping to show he was unstable and vulnerable without them and how it might explain his panicked reaction to a possible threat in his home.
The basis of the prosecution’s case was that the couple, who had only been dating for a few months, had a late-night argument and Steenkamp fled to the bathroom in fear of an angry Pistorius. Neighbors testified that they heard shouting and screams coming from Pistorius’ villa around 3 a.m. before loud bangs. Prosecutors said it showed the couple were arguing before the gunshots.
Pistorius’ lawyers said the screams came from him after he realized what he had done, and the bangs were him hitting the door with the cricket bat to get to Steenkamp. The manager of the gated community where Pistorius lived and his daughter were the first people on the scene after the shooting. The manager testified Pistorius was crying, screaming and praying while carrying Steenkamp’s bloodied body down the stairs when they arrived.
THE FINAL VERDICT
The Supreme Court of Appeal ultimately convicted Pistorius of murder under a specific South African legal principle because he acted with such recklessness when he shot through the door and should have known someone would have been killed without justification. It is comparable to a third-degree murder conviction and Pistorius was sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.
But the final verdict did not definitively say if Pistorius knew he was shooting specifically at Steenkamp and intended to kill her and that question — the very heart of the case — may never be fully answered.
More AP coverage of Oscar Pistorius: https://apnews.com/hub/oscar-pistorius