While the once-beloved athlete Oscar Pistorius claimed he killed his model girlfriend by accident, others called it an incident of domestic violence.
The South African double amputee became a hero after winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Paralympics after competing on his famous running blades. He then made history when he became the first double-leg amputee competitor ever after being accepted into the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
However, the world’s perception of him changed after he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, to death inside his Pretoria, South Africa home on Valentine’s Day 2013. The incident is explored in ESPN’s new “30 for 30” four-part docuseries, “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius.”
He had claimed that he killed Steenkamp — a well-known model, paralegal, and advocate against rape and domestic violence — by accident, insisting he had mistaken her for an intruder. He had fired four shots through the toilet door in his bathroom, where she was at the time. Pistorius said he had perception deprivation from loud fans and a dark room, and thought Steenkamp was still in his bed when he heard the bathroom door screech open, according to the docuseries.
While some of the athlete’s supporters bought his story, others felt that Steenkamp was the victim of gender-based violence. While he had never been arrested on any domestic violence charge in the past specifically, those who doubted his shooting story pointed to his alleged history of previous violence and controlling behavior toward women.
He allegedly broke a woman’s leg after he slammed a door and then punched it during a party at his house in 2009, causing a panel to fall on her, CBS News reported in 2014 — Pistorius reached an out-of-court settlement with that woman, South African blogger Cassidy Taylor-Memmory, in late 2013, The Independent reported in 2014. He reportedly settled because his lawyers advised him he could not be embroiled in both civil and criminal legal battles at the same time.
Taylor-Memmory told the South African outlet Eyewitness News in 2014 that Pistorius and his former girlfriend Melissa Rom got into a fight and then Pistorius told everyone to leave. That ignited the incident, she claimed.
“As I approached his large outside doors, Oscar was furiously trying to close them,” she reflected. “He started to punch the door and that is when one of the top panels fell and hit my left leg. Six weeks prior to the party my plaster cast had just come off after having reconstructive surgery on my left ankle. After this happened I went to tell Oscar that he had hurt me, to which he replied, ‘Well, go call your f--king lawyer.’”
Whatsapp text messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius also reveal a history of arguments, NBC News reported in 2014. They also showed that Steenkamp was afraid of him at times.
“You have picked on me excessively,” one text read, according to a 2014 Telegram report, a paper in Massachusetts. “I do everything to make you happy and you do everything to throw tantrums,” began another message. “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me.”
Amarely Gutierrez, director of domestic violence services for the Central Massachusetts division of the YWCA, told the Telegram at the time that she’s familiar with these kind of texts.
“Some of these texts are a red flag,” she said. “Some of these are very similar to ones we’ve seen, or put out in our training as warnings for young girls.”
As “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius” shows, the shooting of Steenkamp also triggered a conversation about gender-based violence in South Africa, where it continues to be a widespread problem, according to the South African government.
While a judge initially cleared Pistorius of murder in 2014, they found him guilty of culpable homicide, a conviction comparable to manslaughter, The Guardian reported at the time. He was also found guilty of reckless endangerment for shooting off a gun in a restaurant a month before the deadly incident. He was given just five years in prison.
But by the next year, his culpable homicide conviction was overturned by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal. They found him guilty of murder instead, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. Pistorius was then sentenced to six years behind bars and by 2017, a judge more than doubled his sentence to 13 years and four months, the BBC reported in 2017.
The controversial athlete becomes eligible for parole in 2023, The Guardian reported in 2017.
All four episodes of “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius” are available for streaming on ESPN+.
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