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Pistorius pleads not guilty to murder charge

Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, right, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, as he arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)

Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, right, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, as he arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)

Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty yesterday to the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria, South Africa, home on Valentine’s Day last year.

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, who’s admitted to shooting Steenkamp three times in the middle of the night while she was in his bathroom, also denied guilt for three firearms charges in the Pretoria High Court. Dressed in a black suit and tie, Pistorius stood as his lawyer, Barry Roux, spelled out a case of accidental death. Members of both families sat in the first of six rows of benches in the wood paneled court.

“There was no argument,” Roux said in court, reading a statement from Pistorius. “I deny this allegation in the strongest terms because there was no argument.”

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on $93,000 bail since February 2013 after prosecutors charged him with premeditated murder for the shooting of Steenkamp on Feb. 14 following an argument. The runner said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder in the bathroom at his Pretoria home.

The prosecution, led by Gerrie Nel, plans to call more than 100 witnesses during a trial scheduled to run for three weeks. The presiding judge, Thokozile Matilda Masipa, will rule on the case as South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. Pistorius will have to convince the high court that his actions were unintentional and reasonable, while the prosecution must prove premeditation.

The state’s first witness said she heard screams and calls for help from a woman at Pistorius’s home about 3 a.m. Feb. 14, 2013.

“Just after 3, I woke up from a woman’s terrible screams,” Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius, told the court. “She screamed terribly and she yelled for help. Then I also heard a man screaming for help and three times he yelled for help.”

The start of the trial was delayed by 90 minutes to ensure an Afrikaans interpreter was available, said Emily Dlamini, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice. Apart from the murder charge, Pistorius faces two counts of illegally firing a gun in public and one of illegally possessing ammunition.

The trial of the man once on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people is set to be South Africa’s equivalent of the case of ex-National Football League star O.J. Simpson. One television company is dedicating a 24-hour channel to the story and as many as 80 international media houses have reporters in court. Parts of the trial will be broadcast live on radio and TV.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike and Oakley. He was the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.

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