Pistorius back in court over girlfriend's killing

Paralympian sprint star Oscar Pistorius was back in court in South Africa on Monday, with prosecutors expected to formally charge him with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and confirm a trial date.

Looking subdued, the 26-year-old double amputee walked into the Pretoria court wearing a black suit and light blue shirt, and started praying with his sister Aimee and brother Carl, holding hands with them and crying.

Pistorius is back in the dock for a procedural hearing six months after shooting dead Steenkamp in the bathroom of his upmarket Pretoria home on Valentine's Day.

The platinum blonde cover girl and law graduate, who died with gunshot wounds to the head, elbow and hip, would have turned 30 on Monday.

Pistorius, who is out on bail and faces a life sentence if found guilty, has denied murder, saying he shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door because he believed she was an intruder.

Prosecutors are expected to unveil a 10-page indictment for premeditated murder against the "Blade Runner", according to sources close to the investigation.

Pistorius may receive two further charges of discharging a gun in public as the state tries to cast him as aggressive and trigger-happy, according to local media reports.

Pistorius allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of an ex-girlfriend's car, and earlier this year reportedly discharged a gun by accident at a Johannesburg restaurant.

A former girlfriend is reportedly on the state witness list.

Monday's hearing is expected to be brief and lawyers have already agreed to start the trial in 2014 amid backlogs in the South African courts. It should run for around a month.

"The trial will be in March next year. It will be from the first week of March until end of March," his attorney Kenny Oldwage, told AFP.

A single senior judge will hear the case as South Africa does not have a jury system.

He broke down several times in court during his February bail hearing and family members have spoken openly about his trauma.

The indictment could detail key aspects of the police investigation into Steenkamp's death that came under scrutiny during the lengthy bail hearing.

Ballistics reports from the bathroom door suggest Pistorius was on his stumps when the shooting took place, South Africa's Sunday Times reported.

The athlete, who earned his nickname the "Blade Runner" for the fibreglass prosthetic legs he uses in competition, was born without calf bones and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.

Prosecutors have said he donned his two prostheses before firing four shots through the door, a delay they thought would prove the murder was planned.

The indictment could also shed light on phone records from four cell phones found outside the toilet cubicle where Steenkamp had locked herself in.

Paralympic champion Pistorius catapulted to fame at last year's London Olympics as the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes.

But the killing sent shock waves around the world and since then his reckless past and love of fast cars, beautiful women and guns has emerged in media reports.

The murder case halted his participation in athletic events and ended lucrative endorsement deals with US sportswear giant Nike and French cosmetic firm Clarins.

Now South Africa's much-maligned police force is under immense pressure to help secure a conviction, after the bail hearing showed up shoddy police work that led to the whole investigation team being replaced.

Police failed to find all the bullets fired, potentially contaminated the crime scene and misjudged the distance to the house from which a witness claimed to have heard shouting earlier in the night.

Pistorius was released on bail of one million rand ($99,000, 74,000 euros) a week after killing Steenkamp.

Her parents, initially silent, later lashed out at him, speaking of quarrels their daughter had with the athlete in their five-month relationship.