Weeping Olympian Pistorius Faces Murder Charge In Court

South African sports star Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears when he appeared in court Friday to face a charge of murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. The double amputee is known as the Blade Runner for his athletic prowess on the track.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. In a South African courtroom today, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears. That's after prosecutors said they would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against him in the shooting death of his girlfriend.

The world famous double-amputee sprinter known as Blade Runner became an icon after his gold medal wins at last summer's Paralympics. NPR's Gregory Warner has our story.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Oscar Pistorius trembled when he entered a courtroom today in Pretoria, according to accounts from reporters inside the court. He wept when prosecutors announced they would charge him with premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. It's the most serious murder charge under South African law, punishable by life in prison.

When the 26-year-old heard this, it was said he cried out and dropped his face in his hands. His father, sitting behind him, touched his shoulder. The magistrate judge told him to calm down and asked if he wanted to sit. Pistorius did and remained head-down for the rest of the proceedings.

His lawyers requested that the bail hearing be postponed until Tuesday to, quote, "allow time for their own investigation into the circumstances of the tragedy." Pistorius did not enter a plea at the hearing, but in a statement later, his family and management disputed, quote, "in the strongest terms" the charge of murder. The statement also said Pistorius sent his deepest sympathies to the Steenkamp family. Reeva's uncle, Mike Steenkamp, spoke to reporters outside the family home in Port Elizabeth.

MIKE STEENKAMP: I must say that her future has been cut short of what all her dreams have been and what she's accomplished in the past and that the family at the moment, Barry and June, are devastated.

WARNER: He said the family did not know of any problems in the four-month relationship. Reeva Steenkamp was a law school graduate and bikini model due to star this weekend in a South African reality TV show. South Africa police spokesperson, Brigadier Denise Beukes, denied rumors circulating yesterday that the Olympic athlete might have mistaken his girlfriend for a burglar. She said neighbors had heard sounds of an argument.

It was the not the first time police have been called to the Pistorius home in a heavily guarded, gated complex.

BRIGADIER DENISE BEUKES: There has previously been incidents at the home of Mr. Oscar Pistorius of allegations of a domestic nature.

WARNER: Outside the courtroom, a crowd of onlookers and fans sought their own explanations. Leon Pretoria(ph) said South Africans especially want to hold on to his heroic status.

LEON PRETORIA: In my opinion, everyone can just lose their minds, and you can just do - I mean, like, exactly what happened. No one expected it, but it did happen, and it's this guy that, well, it was least expected.

WARNER: Pistorius will spend a second night in a jail cell at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria, visited only by his lawyer and his family. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.

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