Pistorius pleads not guilty at murder trial

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Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, 2nd 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/Herman Verwey, Media24- Pool)

Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, 2nd 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/Herman Verwey, Media24- Pool)

People stand around a newspaper poster reading ‘I want to look into Oscar’s eyes” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People stand around a newspaper poster reading “Oscar’s date with destiny” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People walk outside the court building where Oscar Pistorius will arrive later for his trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People stand around a newspaper reading “Oscar’s date with destiny” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year, marking the start of the Olympian’s murder trial that was being broadcast live on TV.

The first witness, a neighbor of Pistorius, was called before even an hour had passed. The trial itself started 90 minutes late with Pistorius pleading not guilty to murder, two charges relating to discharge of firearm in a public place and one charge of illegal possession of ammunition.

The double-amputee athlete is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, thinking she was an intruder inside his bathroom.

Before the trial started, Pistorius walked past the victim’s mother who says she came to court so she can “really look him in the eyes.”

Defense lawyer Kenny Oldwadge laid out Pistorius’ legal strategy, reading a statement from the runner in which he says the killing was an accident and that there were inconsistencies in the state’s case, as well as an attempt to introduce inadmissible character evidence to discredit him.

In the statement, Pistorius said he brought two fans in from the balcony on the night of the killing, after speaking to his girlfriend who was in bed beside him. He said Steenkamp must have gone into the bathroom while he was fetching the fans. Pistorius said he did not notice that she had gone and heard the bathroom window open.

“I approached the bathroom, armed with my firearm, so as to defend Reeva and I,” Pistorius said in the statement that was read by his lawyer.

He said he then heard a noise in the toilet, and was in a “fearful state” because he was unable to run away or defend himself physically since he was not wearing his prostheses.

“The state has embarked on a strategy to rely on unsubstantiated allegations,” he said, citing a neighbor’s testimony that an argument had been heard in his home.

According to Pistorius’ statement, other neighbors living nearby said they had not heard any argument.

He also cited evidence provided by police detective Hilton Botha as “false in material respects.”

“The scene was contaminated, disturbed and tampered with,” the defense statement said. “This feature of the state’s case will be dealt with when Botha, among others, gives evidence.”

In the courtroom, Pistorius, wearing a dark gray suit and black tie, was seated near Steenkamp’s mother, June. She was quoted in the Pretoria News, which published an interview she gave to a British newspaper, saying that she wants to see Pistorius.

“I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva,” said June Steenkamp, 67. “Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him … But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me. I feel I need that.”

Reeva Steenkamp was a glamorous model and budding reality TV show star when she was cut down at age 29.

Earlier, a drone carrying cameras flew over the entrance to the courthouse in gray, drizzly skies. Several broadcasters massed live broadcast satellite trucks around the courthouse. A 24-hour cable channel devoted to covering the trial was launched in South Africa on Sunday.

If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa. South Africa does not have the death penalty.

A lesser sentence is possible if Pistorius is found guilty of murder but without premeditation. He also could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter in which someone is killed through negligence.

The additional firearms charges relate to him allegedly shooting out of the sunroof of a car in one

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