A South Africa magistrate has charged Olympian Oscar Pistorius with a Schedule 6 offense, meaning that the alleged murder of his girlfriend was preplanned or premeditated.
Pistorius, a double-amputee who gained worldwide fame for running on carbon-fiber blades, allegedly shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, four times at his gated home in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb. 14. South African prosecutors laid out part of their case against the 26-year-old athlete at today's bail hearing.
"[Pistorius] shot and killed an innocent woman," Gerrie Nel, the senior state prosecutor, said in court, adding that there is "no possible explanation to support" the notion that Pistorius thought Steenkamp was an intruder.
Pistorius denied in court today that he intentionally shot her.
Police responding to neighbors' calls about shouting and gunshots at Pistorius' home in the guarded and gated complex in the South African capital discovered Steenkamp's body. A 9-mm pistol was recovered at the home.
At the hearing, for which Pistorius arrived early at the courthouse this morning in a gray suit and tie, the state made it clear it would be asking for the alleged crime to be categorized as preplanned or premeditated.Prosecutors said Steenkamp had arrived at the house with the expectation of spending the night with Pistorius. They said that Steenkamp was shot while in the bathroom, which is about 21 feet from the main bedroom, and that the two rooms are linked by a passage. The door to the toilet was broken down from the outside, prosecutors said, inferring that the bathroom door had been locked.
Prosecutors believe it's a case of premeditated murder because, they say, Pistorius had to stop, put on his prosthetic legs, grab a gun and then walk 21 feet to a bathroom.
The premeditated murder charge means that he would be sentenced to life in prison if convicted, and that he is likely to be denied bail, which is expected to be decided later today.
South Africa has moved away from the jury system, in light of its brutally racist past, so Pistorius' fate will rest in the hands of a judge and two magistrates.
The prosecution said that the defense will no doubt argue for the charge to be downgraded to a Schedule 5 murder, but that was clearly wrong, according to the prosecution.
In a Schedule 5 offense, the onus is on the prosecution to prove that it would be in the interest of justice to keep the accused behind bars and not release him on bail. A Schedule 6 offense is a more serious category, wherein the defense has to prove that it would be in the interest of justice to release the accused person on bail.
The defense made it clear today that it is going to argue that Pistorius thought a burglar was inside that bathroom. The defense said prosecutors have no way to prove that he knew who was in there, and that they are prepared to submit evidence of other men who have shot wives and children, mistaking them for burglars.
News reports in local papers have said that police are investigating whether Pistorius had an anger-management problem that led to the incident. They focused on a bloody cricket bat that might have been used when Steenkamp died.
Meanwhile, the Steenkamp family planned a private memorial service at Victoria Park crematorium in the south coast city of Port Elizabeth today. As Pistorius stood before the court, Steenkamp's body was being transported to Port Elizabeth.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.