An emotional day for all parties involved in Oscar Pistorius case

PRETORIA, South Africa – A woman screamed, then silence, then gunshots and more screaming. This is the scene described in the prosecution's indictment of Oscar Pistorius for the Valentine's Day murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The Olympic star who walked into Courtroom C on Monday was a visibly troubled young man. Pistorius looked decidedly younger than during his previous court appearances, longer hair lending the 26-year-old a boyish air; the confidence he's been lauded for on the running track and trademark easy smile notably absent.

It was his third court appearance since he was arrested for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend in the early hours of Valentine's morning.

Brow determinedly furrowed, he turned his back on the bank of camera flashes that met his arrival, instead clasping the hands of his brother Carl and sister Aimee, their heads bowed in prayer.

Before proceedings even began, Pistorius wiped a single tear from his cheek, leaning over to dab at his sister's eyes with a handkerchief.

Monday would have been Reeva Steenkamp's 30th birthday, but instead of celebrating the milestone with his girlfriend, Pistorius was formally indicted for her murder.

In a brief court hearing that was delayed inexplicably for nearly an hour, a trial date was set for the athlete, with the matter referred to the North Gauteng High Court to be heard March 3.

Magistrate Desmond Nair, who also presided over Pistorius' bail hearing, asked the somber athlete if he was well.

"Under the circumstances," Pistorius replied.

The indictment specifies two charges: that of "planned or premeditated" murder, and the possession of ammunition, contravening the country's Firearms Control Act.

The document also lays out a summary of substantial facts related to Steenkamp's death, describing how she had locked herself into a toilet cubicle before being shot with a 9mm pistol. Her cause of death is given as "multiple gunshot wounds."

Crucially, the indictment states that prosecution witnesses "heard a woman scream, followed by moments of silence, then heard gunshots and more screaming," a nod to the substance of the case that the state will present next year.

Pistorius has publicly admitted to shooting Steenkamp, saying he believed she was an intruder.

But the indictment adds: "Even then, the accused shot with the direct intention to kill a person. An error in persona will not affect the intention to kill a human being."

Attached to the indictment is an extensive witness list, containing more than 100 names of those who may be called by the prosecution.

The 107 individuals, enumerated over eight pages, includes Pistorius' firearms trainer; his best friend, Justin Divaris, who also provided an affidavit during the bail hearing; sister Aimee; uncle Arnold Pistorius; and ex-girlfriends Melissa Rom and Samantha Taylor, who was outspoken in her criticism of the athlete after their relationship ended. It also lists residents of Silverwoods Country Estate where the shooting took place, emergency response workers, a host of police officers and forensic specialists, former lead investigator Hilton Botha, Reeva Steenkamp's ex-boyfriend Warren Lahoud, and some of the model's closest friends.

One of the most prominent inclusions on the witness list was in court Monday.

Across the aisle from the Pistorius family, in the front row of the packed public gallery, a teary-eyed Gina Myers, Reeva Steenkamp's best friend, sat huddled with the Myers family, with whom the model lived after moving to Johannesburg to pursue her career.

Outside Courtroom C, the family members held each other as their lawyer and spokesman Ian Levett read a statement to the waiting crush of cameras.

"Not a day has gone by that anyone who ever came into contact with Reeva Steenkamp hasn't thought about her. Now, more than ever, her memory lives on for her friends, who cannot forget the lasting effect she had on everyone she met," Levett said.

Also present at Monday's hearing was Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, who said she was there to show solidarity with Reeva and her family.

"She is not here to speak for herself. We will be there in court every day to make sure that justice is done," she said.

Steenkamp family members also gathered at the small coastal town of Port Elizabeth in the provincial Eastern Cape, spending Reeva's birthday remembering her and paying tribute to her life.

Her uncle, Mike Steenkamp, said they might even bake a birthday cake in her honor.

The nature of Pistorius' murder charge – that of its planned or premeditated nature – is "the most serious charge in the South African legal system, except for treason," said Martin Hood, a prominent lawyer who specializes in firearms cases.

But the Paralympic gold medalist could still avoid spending a day in prison.

The legal process allows for Pistorius to be convicted of a lesser but related charge, making a conviction for "culpable homicide" – South Africa's equivalent of manslaughter in the United States – a possibility.

Premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence in South Africa, but "culpable homicide" has no minimum sentencing requirement.

"Depending on the seriousness of the crime as proven, it is possible for Oscar to avoid a custodial sentence," Hood told Yahoo! Sports, adding that even if convicted of a murder charge, the disabled athlete could apply to serve a period of his sentence under house arrest.

Hood said there is a desire within the legal fraternity to "see justice being done as quickly as possible" because, given the international media attention, "the entire South African justice system is on trial."

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku says the prosecution team is doing everything possible to prevent delays after the trial begins in March.

"We are getting ready. We need to make sure that everything is in place," he told a small group of reporters outside the courthouse, adding that they want to avoid postponements during the trial, which are exceedingly common in the South African legal system.

Fourteen court days have been set aside for the High Court proceedings, but the trial period could be extended, said Simasiku. Not all 107 witnesses are likely to be called to testify, he said.

Simasiku refused to draw a conclusion on local media speculation around possible additional charges relating to two incidents in which Pistorius allegedly discharged a firearm recklessly – once in an upscale Johannesburg restaurant, and also through the sunroof of a car while driving with an ex-girlfriend. Charges could be added at a later stage, Simasiku said.

Pistorius, the only living witness to the shooting, will decide for himself whether he will take the stand during his trial. It is a process that could drag out for months, with an appeal process available to Pistorius – if convicted – through the country's Supreme Court.

Since he was released from police custody on $100,000 bail in February, Pistorius has returned to the track, training on his trademark blades, but has largely sought to avoid media attention.

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