JOHANNESBURG – Oscar Pistorius is selling the house where he killed Reeva Steenkamp to raise money for his legal bills, the athlete's lawyer said Thursday.
Pistorius has not returned to the upscale Pretoria villa since the day he shot his girlfriend in a bathroom over a year ago and "cannot contemplate ever returning to live there again," lawyer Brian Webber said.
Pistorius had planned to keep his home "sealed" until after his ongoing murder trial, Webber said, but it is now necessary to sell it to fund his defense because the double amputee's trial will last longer than the initial three-week period that was predicted.
"Due to the delay in finalizing the trial, the decision to urgently dispose of his single biggest asset has had to be made," Webber said in a statement.
Pistorius valued the house at $456,000 at his bail hearing last year. He has not been back there since it was returned to him by police over a year ago, Webber said. The house is being sold by the estate agency of Pistorius' longtime track coach, Ampie Louw, who first convinced a teenage Pistorius that he had a talent for running.
Pistorius' murder trial was initially planned to run Mar. 3 to Mar. 20, but prosecutors are still presenting evidence and expect to continue with their case until the middle of next week. Then, Pistorius' defense will call witnesses. The high-profile trial is expected to run into April and maybe longer.
The Olympic runner is charged with premeditated murder after fatally shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in an upstairs bathroom in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year. Pistorius, 27, pleaded not guilty and says he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake thinking she was an intruder in his home.
Pistorius is being defended by two of South Africa's best-known advocates at his trial, Barry Roux and Kenneth Oldwadge, while his court team includes at least three other lawyers, including his family attorney Webber, as well as forensic and ballistic specialists.
Webber said he issued the statement "to pre-empt speculation in the public and the media, and to state the reasons for this decision."
Pistorius' representatives say he has funded his own defense from the start. He has been living with his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, in the eastern suburbs of the South African capital, Pretoria, since he was released on bail last February.
During his bail hearing, Pistorius outlined his assets. He said he owned the house where he lived and where he killed his girlfriend in a posh gated community, as well as two other houses in Pretoria and an empty plot of land in Langebaan, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province. Those other three properties had a combined value of $300,000, Pistorius said. He also listed other assets and cash investments worth around $140,000.
Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and once a poster boy for disabled sport, said he earned just over $500,000 a year from his running but he hasn't competed since 2012 and big-name sponsors like Nike and sunglasses maker Oakley cut ties with him soon after he was arrested and charged with murder for shooting Steenkamp three times with his 9 mm pistol.
Pistorius faces going to prison for 25 years to life if he is convicted on the murder charge. His trial was adjourned Wednesday and will continue on Monday, with the prosecution saying it will wrap up its case with its final four or five witnesses.