PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter who won world acclaim by competing in last summer’s Olympics, broke into loud sobs on Friday after prosecutors announced a charge of premeditated murder against him in the shooting death of his model girlfriend.
The 26-year-old athlete held his head and wept upon learning of the charge, the most serious under South African law, which carries a mandatory life sentence. He did not speak or enter a plea, but a statement released later by his family and agent said Pistorius disputed the murder charge “in the strongest terms.”
The track star’s arrest in the Valentine’s Day killing of 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp shocked South Africa, where Pistorius was a national hero dubbed the Blade Runner for his high-tech prosthetics and revered for overcoming his disability to compete in the London Games.
At Friday’s court hearing, Pistorius wept uncontrollably, drawing the attention of Chief Magistrate Desmond Nasir, who at one point told him simply, “Take it easy.”
Pistorius’ brother, Carl, and his father, Henke, reached out to touch his shoulder to comfort him as he sat slumped and grim-faced in the dock.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he would pursue a charge of premeditated murder against Pistorius in the slaying of Steenkamp, a leggy blonde model with a law degree who had spoken out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women.
She was discovered in a pool of blood before dawn Thursday by police called to Pistorius’ upscale home in a gated community in the South African capital of Pretoria. Authorities said she had been shot four times, and a 9 mm pistol was recovered at the home.
Throngs of reporters, photographers and videographers filled the brick-walled Courtroom C in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, where Pistorius appeared. Nasir’s first ruling focused on the press as he dismissed requests from the state broadcaster and a private television station to air the hearing live.
Nasir also ordered that no photographs be taken while court was in session. That left dozens of photographers kneeling less than a yard from the sobbing Pistorius to simply stare at a man many had photographed previously sprinting on his famous carbon-fiber blades.
Police said investigators had conducted an autopsy on Steenkamp’s body but the results would not be released.
Pistorius’ family left quickly after the hearing, without speaking to journalists. In a statement later Friday, the family and his London-based management agency questioned the criminal charge the athlete faces.