Pistorius Says He Mistook Girlfriend For Intruder

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 19 2013 9:50 AM

What Oscar Pistorius Says Happened on the Night He Shot His Girlfriend

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South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius appears at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria on Feb. 19, 2013

Photo by Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius returned to court today, where for the first time the Paralympic champion publicly offered his version of how he ended up shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day. Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner because of his running prostheses, said that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder after waking in the middle of the night. It was only after he unloaded multiple rounds from his 9mm through a locked bathroom door that he realized what he had done. By then, he said, it was too late to save her.

Here's his statement as read by his lawyer. (For what it's worth, this comes from the Daily Mail. Other media accounts are running it in bits and pieces, so this is the fullest account I've been able to find):

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I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder because I had no intention to kill. I had no intention to kill my girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. I have been informed I have been accused of murder—I deny the accusation. Nothing can be further from the truth that I planned the murder of my girlfriend.
On [February 13] Reeva would have gone out with her friends, me with mine. She wanted to stay at home. I was watching TV. My legs were off. She was doing yoga. At the end of the evening we got into bed.
I’m acutely aware of people gaining entries to homes to commit crime, I’ve received death threats. I sleep with my 9mm under my bed. I woke up to close the sliding door and heard a noise in the bathroom. I was scared and didn’t switch on the light. I got my gun and moved towards the bathroom. I screamed at the intruder because I did not have my legs on I felt vulnerable. I fired shots through the bathroom door and told Reeva to call police.
I walked back to the bed and realized Reeva was not in bed. Then it dawned on me it could be her in there. I kicked the door open. Called paramedics and complex security. I tried to carry her downstairs for help. I tried to help her but she died in my arms. With the benefit of hindsight I realize that Reeva went to the bathroom when I went to close the balcony door.

The prosecution, meanwhile, offered a very different version of events. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the South African courtroom that Pistorius took the time to put on his artificial legs and walk the seven-odd meters from his bed to the bathroom door before opening fire, something he said was clear proof of premeditation. "There's no possible explanation to support his report that he thought it was a burglar," Nel said. "If I arm myself, walk a distance and murder a person, that is premeditated. ... There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill."

If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius would face a mandatory life sentence.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.