By Jonathon Gatehouse and Stephanie Findlay - Friday, March 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
From podium to purgatory: An acclaimed Olympian charged with murder
It was, by all accounts, an accident. Although not one that Oscar Pistorius was willing to take responsibility for. Out for dinner with his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and a bunch of other rich, young athletes and hangers-on at a trendy Johannesburg restaurant this past January, the man they call the Blade Runner was admiring someone else’s gun, when it suddenly went off. The bullet slammed into the floor just centimetres from the foot of Kevin Lerena, an up-and-coming heavyweight boxer. “The KO Kid,” as he is known, would later explain to reporters that the pistol’s safety catch had somehow snagged on Pistorius’s pants, and that the world’s most famous disabled sprinter had been more than contrite. “He apologized to me for days afterwards,” said Lerena. But when the restaurant manager hurried over to determine the source of the ear-shattering explosion, everyone at the table denied knowledge. And none of the other patrons came forward, so the police were never called. Being a national hero and internationally recognized celebrity apparently buys one a lot of leeway in South Africa.
But Pistorius’s next gun incident could hardly be swept under the table. Early in the morning of Feb. 14, the 26-year-old pumped four shots through a locked toilet door at his mansion in a high-security gated community outside the city, striking Steenkamp three times. Minutes later, she would die in his arms.
Pistorius’s version is that he awoke in the dark, heard a noise and concluded that an intruder was in the house. Arming himself, he hobbled into the bathroom on the stumps of his legs, and when his shouts went unanswered, opened fire. It was only when he returned to the bedroom and noticed that his 29-year-old girlfriend was missing that the truth dawned.
The police contend it was premeditated murder. Neighbours saw the lights on and heard the pair fighting, they say. Ballistics evidence shows the shots were fired downward, suggesting the athlete was wearing his prostheses at the time. And he has a history of violent and threatening behaviour, including past allegations of domestic assault.
It was just seven months ago, during the London 2012 Games, that Pistorius was being feted as a global inspiration for becoming the first amputee to compete in an Olympic track event. That the seven-time Paralympic medallist wasn’t nearly as fast as the hype predicted, finishing last in his 400-m semifinal, hardly mattered. The media, and public, couldn’t get enough of the polite and modest South African who shattered so many stereotypes. So too with sponsors like Nike, Oakley sunglasses, and French designer Thierry Mugler, who had already signed the photogenic Pistorius to endorsement deals totalling more than $2 million a year. Lately, he had been tooling around Johannesburg in a new silver convertible MP4-12C Spider McLaren supercar, worth $405,000. Although, as always, he refused to avail himself of the handicapped-parking spaces.
Now, he is suddenly notorious. Within hours of his arrest, M-Net, a South African TV broadcaster, starting pulling down Pistorius’s image from its billboards. Nike, Oakley and other sponsors have all cancelled their contracts. His bail hearing—where, unlike in Canada, all the evidence could be published—quickly degenerated into an O.J. Simpson-style legal circus, much to the delight of the crush of international media packed into Pretoria Magistrates Court. (An electrician was kept on standby, lest the straining air-conditioning system short out and plunge the building into darkness.)
With his father, sister and brother sitting behind him, Pistorius wept frequently during the week of hearings. Yet Steenkamp’s family, who stayed away, complained that, beyond a bouquet of flowers, he has shown no inclination to explain himself to them. In a two-hour oral ruling delivered Feb. 22, Desmond Nair, the chief magistrate, found fault with the sloppy police investigation of the killing (the lead detective has been removed from the case after it emerged that he himself is facing attempted murder charges for indiscriminately firing his gun at a minibus during a car chase). But Nair also underlined the wide gaps in logic in the runner’s tale of how he came to kill his girlfriend. Still, before setting Pistorius free on $115,000 bail and under condition that he surrender his passport, abstain from alcohol and possess no guns, Nair granted one of the country’s most famous sons a further favour, clearing photographers and camera operators from the room. The click of shutters and flash bursts every time he stood in the dock was too distracting and humilitating, the magistrate said, as though Pistorius were “some kind of species the world has never seen before.” It was as if the judge hadn’t been keeping up with the news.
There was one rule above all others in the house where Oscar Pistorius grew up: no one was allowed to say “I can’t.” It applied to his older brother, Carl. It applied to his little sister, Aimee. And it applied, surely a little unfairly at times, to Oscar.
After he was born without fibula, the main weight-bearing bone, in both his legs, Oscar underwent a double amputation just below the knees at the age of 11 months. It wasn’t the only route—a series of reconstructive surgeries was also an option—but it was the one his parents, Henke and Sheila, judged to be the surest path to a normal life. So Oscar learned to walk on his stumps, began running on his first set of prostheses at 17 months, and has never really slowed down since.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 6:01 AM - 0 Comments
‘She was an angel on earth,’ friends say of Reeva Steenkamp
Maclean’s correspondent Stephanie Findlay is on the scene. Watch later for a full report.
South African Paralympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder after his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was found shot dead early Valentine’s Day morning.
Steenkamp is said to have been shot four times.
“I can confirm that a woman has been fatally wounded in a shooting at Oscar Pistorius’s house,” The Guardian newspaper quotes a police officer as saying. “We found a 9mm pistol at the scene.” Continue…