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Family mourns slain South African model

Family and friends mourn Reeva Steenkamp at the model's funeral as her boyfriend, track star Oscar Pistorius, appears in court charged with her murder.

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South African Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius has tearfully denied the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, telling a court he repeatedly shot at her through a locked bathroom door believing she was an intruder.

I felt extremely vulnerable as I felt I had to protect Reeva and myself. 

‘‘I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva,’’ Pistorius said on Tuesday in an affidavit at a court hearing in the capital Pretoria, his first public comments on the Valentine’s Day killing.

Oscar Pistorius awaits the start of court proceedings in the Pretoria Magistrates court.

Dark days ... Oscar Pistorius awaits the start of court proceedings in the Pretoria Magistrates court. Photo: Reuters

The 26-year-old double amputee track star broke down in tears repeatedly as his own words filled the court: ‘‘We were deeply in love and couldn’t be more happy.’’

‘‘I had no intention to kill my girlfriend,’’ he said in the affidavit read out by his lawyer as Pistorius sat in the dock, struggling to hold his composure.

As the court hearing was under way, Steenkamp was being laid to rest at an emotional private ceremony at a crematorium in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.

Oscar Pistorius's sister Aimee, right, is consoled by relatives.

Oscar Pistorius's sister Aimee, right, is consoled by relatives. Photo: Reuters

The Blade Runner who became an inspiration to millions when he became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics, faces a charge of premeditated murder, which will likely result in remand without bail and, if convicted, a life sentence behind bars.

Pistorius said the couple, who had been dating since late last year, had spent the evening at his upscale Pretoria home watching television and with the 29-year-old Steenkamp doing yoga.

He awoke in the dead of night ‘‘filled with horror and fear’’ that someone was in the bathroom and said he felt ‘‘very vulnerable’’ because he did not have his prosthetic legs on.

A relative of the late South African model Reeva Steenkamp holds the funeral ceremony program.

A relative of the late South African model Reeva Steenkamp holds the funeral ceremony program. Photo: AFP

"I felt extremely vulnerable as I felt I had to protect Reeva and myself," he said.

‘‘I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police.

‘‘Reeva was not responding. When I reached the bed, I realised that Reeva was not in bed.

Family support ... the brother and father of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius in court.

Family support ... the brother and father of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius in court. Photo: AP

‘‘That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet.’’

After breaking down the door with a cricket bat, Pistorius said ‘‘Reeva was slumped over but alive’’. She died a short time later in his arms.

Prosecutors argued that far from being an accident, Steenkamp’s death was a premeditated act of murder.

Shot dead ...  Oscar Pistorius with model Reeva Steenkamp.

Shot dead ... Oscar Pistorius with model Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: Reuters

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court Pistorius had armed himself, put on his prosthetic legs, walked seven metres and fired four shots into the bathroom door, hitting a terrified Steenkamp three times and fatally wounding her.

‘‘She could go nowhere,’’ Nel said.There was no decision on bail on Tuesday, with court proceedings delayed until Wednesday.

Magistrate Desmond Nair said he could not rule out that there was some planning involved in the killing, which may be considered as a premeditated murder for the purposes of bail.

But Pistorius’s legal team rejected the claims as he sought to argue he was not a flight risk.

‘‘I have no intention to relocate to any other country as I love my country,’’ he said.

Pistorius revealed he earned 5.6 million rand ($624,665) a year and owned the $US570,000 ($556,340) house in the gated estate where the killing took place and two other homes.

Lawyers submitted affidavits from friends of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, which spoke of the couple’s close relationship.

‘‘She said she could see a future with him. She said if Oscar asked her to marry him she’d probably say yes,’’ said friend Samantha Greyvenstein.

Pistorius, who off the track has a rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defence.

In 2009, Pistorius - who once admitted to a newspaper that he slept with a pistol, machinegun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars - spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.

Meanwhile in Port Elizabeth, tearful friends and family said goodbye to Steenkamp, whose cloth-draped coffin with white flowers laid on top was carried into a chapel in the south-eastern coastal city where she grew up.

‘‘There’s a space missing inside all of the people that she knew that can’t be filled again,’’ her brother Adam, who gave the eulogy, told reporters after the ceremony.

‘‘We’re going to keep all the positive things that we remember and know about my sister and we will try and continue with the things that she tried to make better. We’ll miss her.’’

A funeral program simply entitled "Reeva" bore the dates of her birth and death, and a black-and-white portrait of Steenkamp with the words "God’s Gift, A Child" written on the back.

On Saturday a celebrity television show aired haunting footage of Steenkamp speaking about the need to leave a positive mark on life, words laden with poignancy after her death.

Pistorius, a Paralympian gold-medallist, became the first double amputee to run against able-bodied athletes, at last year’s Olympics in London on the carbon-fibre running blades that inspired his nickname.

But his career has been put on hold since the shooting, forcing him to cancel races in Australia, Brazil, Britain and the United States between March and May.

AFP