PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius was indicted today on a charge of murdering his girlfriend, and prosecutors said witnesses heard a woman screaming before the sound of fatal gunshots fired by the double-amputee Olympian in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.
Pistorius, who was in court for the indictment and wept before proceedings began, also will face a charge of illegal possession of ammunition when he goes on trial March 3 in a court in the South African capital, Pretoria.
The much-awaited indictment in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court yielded new detail about how prosecutors will pursue a case that has gripped the world because of the celebrity status of Pistorius, who overcame his disability to become a global phenomenon. His model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, would have celebrated her 30th birthday today.
Prosecutors said Pistorius shot “with the intention to kill a person,” and a prosecution spokesman said after the hearing that it was premeditated murder.
The prosecution also will attempt to show the couple argued before she was killed as part of its case that Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp.
“Some of the state witnesses heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and then more screaming,” the prosecution said in the 11-page indictment.
The court set March 3-20 as the trial period for Pistorius, who has said he shot Steenkamp by mistake, believing she was an intruder in his upscale home in Pretoria. Prosecutors submitted a list of more than 100 witnesses, including Pistorius’ uncle Arnold, sister Aimee and brother Carl, as well as a number of people who lived in the same gated community where Steenkamp was killed.
If convicted, Pistorius could face a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison before parole. There is no death penalty in South Africa.
Prosecutors said Steenkamp died just after 3 a.m. on Feb. 14 of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the autopsy. The state will attempt to show that the couple could have fought before Pistorius shot four times through a locked toilet cubicle door, hitting Steenkamp three times and killing her.
Pistorius has said he thought Steenkamp was in bed and he shouted at her to call the police, believing there was a dangerous intruder in his bathroom, and that he didn’t know she was in the toilet cubicle.
Pistorius, 26, appeared in court for today's indictment, crying and holding hands with his siblings before proceedings started. Wearing a dark suit, the athlete wiped away tears with a tissue and sat in the dock with his head bowed.
Pistorius also stood and spoke twice, first responding to the magistrate’s question on whether he was OK by saying: “Under the circumstances, ja (yes).” He also was asked if he understood the indictment and he said he did.
The case will be sent to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, where a judge will ultimately pronounce the athlete innocent or guilty. South Africa does not have trial by jury.
Although the word “premeditated” was not contained in the indictment, prosecutors said afterward that it was a case of premeditated murder.
“When you talk of intentional, it’s premeditated. Intentional. He wanted to do that,” prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. “In as far as a sound case, let the court decide on that. We believe it will go through in our favor.”
Prosecutors said the second charge of possession of illegal ammunition relates to a lack of proper licensing for .38 caliber bullets found at Pistorius’ home. Pistorius shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9mm handgun.
This month, the office of South Africa’s police commissioner said in a statement that detectives, forensic experts, ballistics experts, psychologists and other professionals are confident they have the evidence to convict Pistorius.
The most telling evidence — apart from the witness testimony — may be in records on cellphones found at Pistorius’ home and through examination of the toilet cubicle door through which Pistorius shot.
The angle or trajectory of the bullets could show if Pistorius was standing on his stumps when he shot, as he says, or if he was on his prosthetics, as the prosecution maintains — a marked difference in the two accounts along with the alleged fight between him and Steenkamp.
There was no mention in the indictment of whether prosecutors still believed Pistorius was on his prosthetic legs when he shot, nor was there reference to the cellphones or door. But the prosecution only needed to give a broad outline of its case.
Pistorius’ legal team now has just over six months to prepare his defense before trial.