Feb. 19, 2013 at 10:27 AM ET
During a visit to the home of Oscar Pistorius this past summer to produce a segment on the South African sprinter for the Olympics, NBC Sports correspondent Mary Carillo remembers him being "jumpy'' and paranoid about security.
As Pistorius appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday since being charged with his girlfriend’s murder on Feb. 14, prosecutors alleged the murder was premeditated, while Pistorius's attorneys claimed he shot her because he mistakenly thought she was a burglar. Carillo, a correspondent for “Rock Center with Brian Williams" who covered Pistorius at the London Olympics, remembered an instance when the NBC crew left his garage door open while setting up for a segment at his house. Carillo said he berated his housekeeper when he returned home and found the door open.
“Clearly this guy worried about his safety, worried about security,’’ Carillo told David Gregory in an interview on TODAY Tuesday from South Africa. “He was a gun guy. That’s very, very clear. Again, there’s a high crime rate here in South Africa, there’s no denying that. A lot of people own guns.”
The double amputee known as “Blade Runner” has been charged with murdering model Reeva Steenkamp in his home. Prosecutors say Pistorius armed himself, put on his prostheses, walked 20 feet to the bathroom and fired a gun four times at Steenkamp, who was hiding behind a locked bathroom door. Steenkamp was hit by three bullets through the door, and Pistorius carried her body downstairs and told friends he had mistaken her for a burglar.
Prosecutors argue the murder was premeditated, questioning why a burglar would be hiding in the bathroom. Even if Pistorius had thought it was a burglar, prosecutors note, Pistorius would still have been shooting a defenseless person sitting on a toilet. Pistorius has denied the murder allegation, maintaining it was an accident, and his attorneys argue there was no motive and nothing to indicate premeditation.
Pistorius was crying and shaking in the courtroom Tuesday, a far cry from the inspiring figure who crossed over from stardom in the Paralympics to compete in the London Olympics last year.
“In a nation that is so divided on so many levels, this man was a hero, a superhero, an idol to millions of people, and I’m one of those people who put a halo over his head just like everyone else,’’ Carillo said. “Now he’s doing a perp walk. It’s still hard to reconcile. I had this guy as a Nobel Peace Prize winner one day, and now he could be spending the rest of his life in jail.’’
The mood in the country has also turned against a man once held up as an inspiring figure. On the same day that a memorial service was held for Steenkamp in Port Elizabeth, protesters gathered in Johannesburg to rail against Pistorius.
“Here in Johannesburg, there have been, since early morning, demonstrators from the ANC Women’s League holding placards that say things like ‘Oscar Pistorious should rot in hell,’’’ Carillo said. “These are people who embraced this man in so many ways and now they want to see him go away, go to prison.’’
The charge against Pistorius is reminiscent of the famous murder case involving NFL Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson in 1994, who was acquitted of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. However, Carillo said, there is one clear difference.
“The thing is O.J. Simpson never admitted anything,’’ she said. “That’s not what’s happening down here. Oscar Pistorius clearly was the man who killed Reeva Steenkamp. That’s not even being argued by the defense team. The big question is whether it was, as the prosecution is trying to allege, an execution, or if it was just a horrible, horrible tragedy.”
“Again, I liked O.J. I had met him before as well, but I never got the sense that this was a very, very special guy who was going to do great things and create a legacy of honor. That’s what I thought of Oscar Pistorius and right now all that seems to be going away.’’