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Oscar Pistorius claims death was mistake

Oscar Pistorius stood in court as he was formally charged with murder on Tuesday.

Masi Losi/Pretoria News/AP

Oscar Pistorius stood in court as he was formally charged with murder on Tuesday.

PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius portrayed himself as a lover caught in tragedy, wielding a pistol and frightened as he stood only on his stumps, then killed his girlfriend after mistaking her for an intruder on Valentine’s Day.

Prosecutors, however, said the double-amputee Olympian committed premeditated murder, firing at Reeva Steenkamp as she cowered behind his locked bathroom door.

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Weeping uncontrollably, Pistorius listened as his words were read in court by his attorney during the opening of a two-day bail hearing, his first public account of the events surrounding the shooting death of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model.

‘‘I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder, as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp,’’ Pistorius said in the affidavit. ‘‘I deny the aforesaid allegation in the strongest terms.’’

It was the first time the prosecution and Pistorius provided details of their radically divergent accounts of the killing, which has shocked South Africans and fans worldwide.

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Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius rose from his bed after a fight with Steenkamp, pulled on his prosthetic legs, and walked about 20 feet to the locked toilet door and pumped it with four bullets, three of which hit the model.

That contradicted the runner’s statement, which described how the couple spent a quiet night together in the athlete’s upscale home in a gated community.

Sometime before dawn, Pistorius said, he awoke, and walking only on his stumps, pulled a fan in from an open balcony and closed it. He said he heard a noise and became alarmed because the bathroom window was open and workers had left ladders nearby.

Too frightened to turn on a light, Pistorius said, he pulled out his pistol and headed for the bathroom, believing Steenkamp was still asleep.

‘‘As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself,’’ he said, adding that he shouted to Steenkamp to call police as he fired at the toilet door.

It was then, Pistorius said, that he realized Steenkamp was not in bed.

He said he pulled on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the toilet door before finally bashing it in with a cricket bat. Inside, he found Steenkamp, slumped over but still alive.

But it was too late. ‘‘She died in my arms,’’ Pistorius said.

Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair adjourned the case until Wednesday without ruling on whether Pistorius would be granted bail. However, he said the gravity of the charge — which carries a mandatory life sentence — meant the athlete’s lawyers must offer ‘‘exceptional’’ reasons for bail to be granted.

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