PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius wept Tuesday as his defense lawyer read the athlete's account of how he shot his girlfriend to death on Valentine's Day, claiming he had mistaken her for an intruder.
Prosecutors, however, told a packed courtroom that the double-amputee known as the Blade Runner intentionally and mercilessly shot and killed 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp as she cowered inside a locked bathroom.
Pistorius told the Pretoria Magistrate's Court at a bail hearing he felt vulnerable in the presence of an intruder inside the bathroom because he did not have his prosthetic legs on, and fired into the bathroom door.
The Valentine's Day shooting in Pistorius' home in Pretoria shocked South Africans and many around the world who idolized him for overcoming adversity to become a sports champion, competing in the London Olympics last year in track besides being a Paralympian. Steenkamp was a model and law graduate who made her debut on a South African reality TV program that was broadcast on Saturday, two days after her death.
In a major point of contention emerged even during Tuesday bail hearing, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius took the time to put on his prostheses, walked seven meters (yards) from the bed to the enclosed toilet inside his bathroom and only then opened fire. Three of the bullets hit Steenkamp of the four that were fired into the door, Nel said.
Pistorius said in his sworn statement that after opening fire, he realized that Steenkamp was not in his bed.
"It filled me with horror and fear," Pistorius said. The 26-year-old Olympian said he put on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the door before finally bashing it in with a cricket bat. Inside, he said he found Steenkamp, slumped over. He said he lifted her bloodied body into his arms and tried to carry her downstairs to seek medical help.
But by then, it was too late.
"She died in my arms," the athlete said.
Nel charged Pistorius with premeditated murder and said the athlete opened fire after the couple engaged in a shouting match and she fled to the bathroom.
"She couldn't go anywhere. You can run nowhere," Nel said. "It must have been horrific."
A conviction of premeditated murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in jail.
Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair ruled that Pistorius must face the harshest bail requirements available in South African law. That means Pistorius' lawyers must offer "exceptional" reasons for the athlete to be free before trial, besides simply giving up his two South African passports and posting a cash bond.
Pistorius sobbed softly as his lawyer, Barry Roux, insisted the shooting was an accident and that there was no evidence to substantiate a murder charge.
"We submit it is not even murder," he said. "There is no concession this is a murder."
Pistorius' emotional outbursts again played a part in how the hearing progressed, as it did during an initial hearing Friday. At one point, Nair stopped the hearing after Pistorius wept as Roux read a portion of the athlete's statement describing how Steenkamp bought him a Valentine's Day present, but wouldn't let him open it the night before.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here