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Oscar Pistorius trial: Mistake or murder?

NEED TO KNOW
  • Double-amputee Olympic sprinter goes on trial Monday for premeditated murder
  • Pistorius says he shot Reeva Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder on Valentine's Day 2013
  • HLN brings you coverage of the Pistorius trial Monday at noon ET
Oscar Pistorius trial: Mistake or murder?

Re-enactment: Oscar Pistorius' story

Re-enactment: Oscar Pistorius' story

Recap: Why 'Blade Runner' is on trial for murder

Recap: Why 'Blade Runner' is on trial for murder

Less than six months after setting records at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Oscar Pistorius found himself back in the international spotlight.

But instead of reveling again in his athletic abilities, the double-amputee sprinter was answering accusations that he intentionally shot his girlfriend to death on Valentine's Day.

Pistorius has never denied shooting Reeva Steenkamp in the early morning hours of February 14, 2013, but he insists that he did it in self-defense after mistaking her for an intruder.

The 27-year-old is now about to make his case before a judge in South Africa and HLN will be bringing you full coverage starting Monday at noon ET.

Here's what you need to know to get caught up on the case:

'The fastest man with no legs'

Pistorius had both legs amputated when he was just 11 months old because he was born without fibulas -- or calf bones -- in either of his legs.

In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan in 2012, Pistorius said he turned to sports -- water polo, cricket, tennis, wrestling and boxing -- at a very young age. His disability was never really discussed by the family.

"Not because it was a topic that was taboo," Pistorius explained. "It was just never an issue. And that's the mentality that I've had."

Pistorius only turned to running as part of his rehabilitation when he wrecked his knee playing rugby. He was 16 at the time. Within a year, he was breaking records with his carbon-fiber running prosthetics, which earned him the nickname "Blade Runner."

At his first Paralympics in 2004, Pistorius brought home two medals including a gold and a bronze. He would rack up five more gold medals and a silver as he went on to compete in two more Paralympics.

Pistorius made history during the 2012 London Games became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete to compete in the Olympics. Months later, Pistorius' girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot to death in the couple's home.

From humble student to cover girl

Dark-haired, freckled and innocent -- that's how pictures taken by one of Steenkamp's friends show the then-21-year-old law student as she posed on the beach near her family home. Several years later, her family would return to that spot to scatter her ashes.

The images of the aspiring model are starkly different from the ones many of us have seen since her death, which depict a sultry platinum blonde, full of confidence.

"Most of the photos that I took of her aren't even edited," photographer Gareth Barclay, who worked with Steenkamp a few months before her death, told CNN. "That's just how she is, you know."

Steenkamp was a rising star in the modeling world: She was the face of the cosmetics company Avon, a cover girl for a men's magazine, presented for FashionTV in South Africa and was even a contestant in a reality TV show, which began airing just two days after her death.

"She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth," said Capacity Relations, the agency that represented her.

Steenkamp, who was 29 years old when she died, sported a tattoo on her neck with a special message, written in Italian, that said, "Only God will judge me."

"That was something that her grandfather had always said," according to her friend, Kerry Smith, who spoke to CNN. "It was very close to her own heart."

A power couple that seemed in love

Steenkamp and Pistorius started dating around November 2012, according to reports.

"All of us saw at firsthand how close she had become to Oscar during that time and how happy they were," said Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius, in a statement. "They had plans together and Oscar was happier in his private life than he had been for a long time."

Intimate images of the couple, released exclusively to CNN this month, show the pair looking relaxed and happy in the weeks and months before Steenkamp's death.

In one photo, Pistorius embraces Steenkamp with eyes closed. The pair was also captured holding onto one another tightly as she sat in his lap.

Four days before her death, Steenkamp tweeted about feeling secure: "I woke up in a happy, safe home this morning. Not everyone did."

She also seemed happy the day before she was shot to death on Valentine's Day. "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she asked her Twitter followers. "Get excited."

A 'devastating accident' or murder?

In the early morning hours of February 14, 2013, Steenkamp was shot four times through the bathroom door of Pistorius' upscale home in South Africa, according to prosecutors.

Pistorius described in a statement, read by his attorney in court last year, how he heard a noise coming from the bathroom when he got up early that morning to close a sliding door:

"I’m [acutely] aware of people gaining entries to homes to commit crime, I’ve received death threats. I sleep with my 9 mm under my bed. I woke up to close the sliding door and heard a noise in the bathroom. I was scared and didn’t switch on the light. I got my gun and moved towards the bathroom. I screamed at the intruder. Because I did not have my legs on, I felt vulnerable. I fired shots through the bathroom door and told Reeva to call police. I walked back to the bed and [realized] Reeva was not in bed. Then it dawned on me it could be her in there."

Pistorius also said in the statement that he "tried to help her but she died in my arms. I am mortified."

Prosecutors, however, told the judge last year that neighbors reported hearing an argument coming from Pistorius' home that morning that lasted about an hour. They said Pistorius knew Steenkamp was in the bathroom and that he intentionally got out of bed, put on his prosthetic legs and shot through the locked door following a fight.

No stranger to guns -- or trouble?

Pistorius was known to have weapons and, in 2011, he tweeted a photo of himself at a gun range boosting that he had "a 96% headshot over 300m from 50 shots! Bam!"

Police also testified before a judge in 2013 about two incidents allegedly involving Pistorius: One where a gun was discharged at a Johannesburg restaurant and Pistorius allegedly asked someone else to take the blame for it and another incident at a racetrack where Pistorius allegedly threatened to assault someone.

Marc Batchelor, a South African soccer player who socialized with Pistorius, described him as having a "trip switch."

"It's like we were waiting for something like this to happen," Batchelor told CNN. He also said that Pistorius was armed nearly everywhere he went and that he caused "a lot of problems."

Another friend, boxer Kevin Lerena, told CNN he didn't believe his friend was negligent with guns.

"He was a good guy, could have fun with his mates," Lerena said. "But never was he reckless and ever in my company aggressive toward anyone."

A pending murder trial

Pistorius will be tried for premeditated murder in Pretoria, South Africa, starting on Monday. His trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

Court will take place between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time (which for us, because of the major time difference, is 2 a.m. ET until 9 a.m. ET).

There is no jury in South Africa so the case will be heard by High Court Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa. If convicted, Pistorius faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Pistorius was jailed after his arrest in 2013 but was granted bail shortly after. One of the conditions of his bail is that he must avoid his home where the shooting occurred.

In advance of the trial, his defense team has launched the Twitter handle @OscarHardTruth, which Pistorius said on Twitter will "uncover the truth."

Pistorius marked the 1-year anniversary of his girlfriend's death by releasing a statement on his website, which read, in part:

"No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved -- and continues to love Reeva. The pain and sadness -- especially for Reeva’s parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow. The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

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