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Court Cases

Oscar Pistorius pleads not guilty as murder trial begins in South Africa

The trial of South African double-amputee Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been adjourned. Pistorius pleaded not guilty for the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year on Valentine's Day.

The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius adjourned after several hours on Monday and was scheduled to resume the following day. At the start of the hearing at the Pretoria High Court, a state prosecutor read out a charge that Oscar Pistorius "unlawfully and intentionally did kill" girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, to which Pistorius responded "not guilty, my lady."

The prosecution says Pistorius intentionally killed his model girlfriend at his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year, February 14, by shooting her through a bathroom door after an argument.

Pistorius claims he was acting in self-defense against what he believed was a nighttime intruder. He also pleaded not guilty to two charges relating to the discharge of a firearm in a public place and one of illegal possession of ammunition.

A statement read out in court by Pistorius' legal team said the crime scene had been "contaminated, disturbed and tampered with."

The trial had begun 90 minutes late due to the absence of an Afrikaans translator. When it did begin, Michelle Burger - a neighbor of Pistorius - testified she had woken up the night Steenkamp died to "a woman's terrible screams."

"She was very scared. Just after her scream I heard four shots," she told the court.

Female judge Thokozile Masipa will ultimately pronounce Pistorius innocent or guilty and will decide on any sentence. South Africa has no trial by jury.

If convicted, prosecutors say they will seek a life sentence, the strictest punishment available in South Africa, a country that no longer has the death penalty.

Pistorius was the first double leg amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the 2012 London Olympics. Nicknamed "Blade Runner," he went on to win two gold medals and a silver medal at the Paralympics in London.

The case has caught international intrigue as the world’s most high-profile trial involving an athlete since the case of OJ Simpson in the mid-1990s.

hc/ph (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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