Oscar Pistorius (C) is escorted by police during a court
appearance in Pretoria on Friday. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Ever since 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius's girlfriend
was shot dead in his Pretoria home last week, South African
papers have printed lurid details of the killing which, if
true, pose major challenges to the Paralympic star's defence
team, experts say.
Initial reports of the shooting in the early hours of
Thursday suggested Pistorius (26) a double amputee who became
one of the biggest names in world athletics, may have
mistaken law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp for an
A statement released by his family dismissed the charge of
murder laid on Friday in "the strongest terms". His bail
hearing resumes in a Pretoria magistrate's court on Tuesday.
Within hours of the shooting, police confirmed that Steenkamp
had been killed by more than one gunshot, that Pistorius was
the only suspect, that neighbours had heard earlier
disturbances, that there were no signs of a break-in and that
a 9mm pistol had been recovered from the two-storey home.
Since then, police have released no more details.
The same cannot be said of the South African media, part of a
global publicity machine that built up Pistorius into the
ultimate sporting tale of triumph over adversity - a man who
rose to the pinnacle of world athletics, racing at the
Olympics despite having no lower legs.
Some of the most widely reported local media allegations are
that Steenkamp was in the bathroom when she was shot, was hit
by four rounds - in the head, hand, hip and chest - and that
shots were fired through the bathroom door.
In addition, leading Sunday newspaper City Press said
investigators had found a blood-stained cricket bat in
Pistorius' bedroom. The paper said police had not yet worked
out whose blood it was, but said Steenkamp's head was
The newspaper also alleged that Steenkamp, who will be buried
on Tuesday, had slept in the same bed as Pistorius that night
- Valentine's Day eve - and that her iPad was on the bedroom
floor along with an overnight bag.
The ENCA television channel said CCTV footage from the gated
community showed Steenkamp arriving at the complex shortly
after 6pm on the previous evening.
Police have declined to comment on any of the reports, saying
official details will only emerge in court.
However, the allegations - if true - undermine the legal
argument of self-defence, as well as the suggestion that
Pistorius was taken by surprise by a would-be stranger in his
house in the middle of the night.
"If what the media says is in fact the truth, I cannot see
that any defence based on self-defence can, by any stretch of
the imagination, succeed," said Eddie Classen, a partner at
BDK Attorneys, one of South Africa's biggest criminal defence
Under the white-minority rule that ended in 1994, South
Africa had relatively lax curbs on the use of lethal force,
not only in self-defence but also in making arrests. Put
bluntly, if the only way to stop a fleeing robber was to
shoot him, you could.
However, the laws were tightened up after the end of
apartheid when the "right to life" became enshrined in the
new constitution of Nelson Mandela's "Rainbow Nation", making
it permissible to use lethal force only when your life is
Furthermore, when the immediate threat is gone - a shot
intruder, say, goes down with a bullet in the leg - the
self-defence argument ends.
"The law says that you have to stop the moment that you have
repelled an attack, so normally one shot will suffice," said
Steven Tuson, a professor of criminal law at Johannesburg's
If Pistorius's lawyers choose to avoid the self-defence
avenue, another option may be to argue temporary insanity
based on chemical stimulants, a defence irreverently referred
to in sports-mad South Africa as "roid rage", short for
This is why Pistorius was taken for blood tests immediately
after the shooting, Tuson said, "to exclude that defence".
Classen also said the "roid rage" defence could only succeed
in "extraordinary circumstances".
One other possible avenue is for Pistorius to argue "putative
self-defence" - that he thought he was being attacked even if
he wasn't. Even then, Classen said the content of the media
reports, if true, curtailed his chances of success.
"The facts of the matter - and I caution again because I am
only reading them from the media - suggest something totally
different," he said.