Oscar Pistorius formally indicted for murder of Reeva Steenkamp

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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Oscar Pistorius (L) speaks with his lawyer Kenny Oldwage in court Monday. (Getty Images)

Oscar Pistorius learned on Monday that he faces potentially damning testimony from a former lover and a South African soccer star as part of the murder charge he must answer for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The Olympic and Paralympic star was handed papers by a magistrate setting out that he stands accused of committing pre-meditated murder on Valentine's Day by firing four shots at Steenkamp with a 9mm pistol through a locked toilet door at his luxury home in Pretoria, a suburb of Johannesburg.

Monday's hearing lasted just 17 minutes before a trial date was set for the North Gauteng High Court from March 3-20. It is there that Pistorius' ex, Samantha Taylor, and soccer pro Mark Batchelor are set to appear after being named on a formal list of 107 witnesses. If Pistorius is found guilty, the Blade Runner faces at least 25 years in prison.

Johannesburg's City Press newspaper reported last weekend that Taylor will detail an incident in which Pistorius allegedly fired a weapon through the sunroof of a moving vehicle they were traveling in. While such an account does not prove murder in a separate case, it could form a key part of the battle between the rival legal teams.

The Pistorius defense will attempt to portray a frightened disabled man, who shot Steenkamp because he believed he had discovered a late-night intruder and feared for his safety. Critically though, the indictment insists that even in the instance of mistaken identity, Pistorius displayed a "direct intention to kill a person" and that should not affect the validity of the charge.

Batchelor, a well-known figure in South African sporting circles, has previously described being threatened by a hot-tempered Pistorius following an altercation when it was discovered one of his friends was dating Taylor while the runner was away at the London Olympics. Other sportsmen such as Pistorius' boxer friend Kevin Lerena and Warren Lahoud, a rugby player who used to date Steenkamp, are also included in the case.

Pistorius had both of his legs amputated below the knee when he was less than a year old yet fought a long struggle to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes, winning that right and qualifying for the 400-meter semifinal in the London Olympic Games last year.

That effort earned him a global following and superstar status in his homeland, where he enjoyed the trappings of success, thanks to a series of lucrative endorsements.

However, the prosecution will paint a picture of an athlete out of control, culminating in the events of February 14 in the exclusive Silver Woods housing development where he lived. As per South African legal custom, a single judge will decide whether the killing was premeditated murder or a terrible accident.

Several of the trial witnesses are members of the police and emergency services who were called to the scene, but the list also includes Pistorius' sister, Aimee, and Steenkamp's close friend, Gina Myers, who watched Monday's court proceedings in person, accompanied by her family.

Steenkamp, who would have celebrated her 30th birthday on Monday, lived with the Myers preceding her death, and the family baked cupcakes in commemoration.

Supporters of Pistorius would have taken little optimism from the brief proceedings. Conscious of facing international embarrassment following the prolonged and often shambolic nature of the initial court hearings, South Africa's police service compiled an investigation of exhaustive detail.

Countless crime scene experts, plus psychologists and technology experts, were consulted, with forensic specialist Prof. Gert Saayman, who conducted the postmortem examination of Steenkamp's body, likely to be another central figure.

After being brought to court in a silver Range Rover, Pistorius entered the room in a dark suit and with a somber expression, managing a small smile for sister Aimee and brother Carl, before a lengthy family prayer session where many tears were shed.

Overseeing the court was Magistrate Desmond Nair, the same official who set initial bail conditions in February, though they were subsequently overturned to allow Pistorius greater freedoms.

For many South Africans this was their first glimpse of Pistorius since then as over the past few months sightings of the runner have been scarce, though he did return to the track to conduct some light training and embarked on a kayaking trip with a group of friends. Apart from the occasional snippet such as a story that realtors were reluctant to sell Pistorius' house for fear it would bring bad karma, or rumors that he was buying an expensive sports car, Pistorius has been largely out of the news.

Yet as the months roll by and South Africa prepares for what is already being called its Trial of the Century, the glare of the spotlight will once again fall upon a fallen hero.

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