PRETORIA (Reuters) - A South African judge postponed the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday and criticized the media for sensationalist reporting of the Olympic and Paralympic athletics star's shooting of his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.
Pistorius, 26, remained composed throughout the 10-minute hearing at the Pretoria Magistrates Court when he made his first formal public appearance since his release on bail in February. He was driven away afterwards in a sports utility vehicle with tinted windows.
The double amputee, nicknamed "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic racing legs, has admitted killing Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by firing four shots through a locked toilet door on February 14 at his plush Pretoria home.
Dressed in a dark suit, shirt and tie, his only words in court were "Yes, Your Honor" when asked if he understood the bail conditions.
Judge Daniel Thulare postponed the case until August 19, which would have been Steenkamp's 30th birthday, after prosecutors asked for more time to prepare their case. They did not provide details.
Thulare also took a swipe at domestic and international media coverage of the case, branding it "scandalizing, contemptuous actions".
"It appears there is a trial by media," Thulare told the court.
He urged journalists to "preserve the sanctity of the fountains of justice."
In the most recent incident, Britain's Sky News broadcast photos said to have been taken inside Pistorius' home shortly after the shooting. The images showed blood-spattered walls and blood pools on the bathroom floor. Police said they were investigating the leak.
South Africa does not have trial by jury so pre-trial media coverage is seldom deemed to be prejudicial.
In testimony at the February bail hearing, his lawyers said the shooting was a tragic mistake and Pistorius was acting in self-defense against what he thought was an intruder.
Prosecutors accused him of premeditated murder for firing into the door, hitting Steenkamp in the head, hip and arm. Bail was set in February at 1 million rand, which is about $100,000
FALL FROM GRACE
The case has garnered enormous attention because of his remarkable life story and fall from grace. In South Africa, he was a hero for black and white people alike, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.
In August last year, he carried the South African flag at the London Olympics, the games at which he confirmed his hero status by becoming to the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes.
He reached the semi-final of the 400 meters.
Six months later, he was a broken man, weeping uncontrollably in court after being accused of murder.
Pistorius was born without fibula, the bone that runs below the knee joint and down to the ankle. He had his legs amputated below the knee at the age of 11 months.
He first competed with able-bodied athletes in July 2007 in Rome but the International Association of Athletics Associations (IAAF) later suspended him on the grounds that his blades gave him an unfair advantage. He challenged the ban and in May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for sport ruled in his favor.
He won three gold medals in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and two golds in London last year.
But since the killing, his lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of sporting goods maker Nike have been suspended and his millions of admirers around the world have questioned the faith they had put in him.
Pistorius has kept out of the public eye since he secured bail. Media reported that in April he partied at a nightclub in a Johannesburg suburb after his bail conditions were relaxed the previous month.
The Pistorius camp said the matter was blown out of proportion and he went out for a quiet dinner with friends after spending weeks in the house with family.
He has been living with family since his release on bail, praying and rediscovering his Christian faith, his family members have said.
"He's battling, but with his family behind him, with his sister living in the same house as he lives at Aimee. They assist him a lot, and we are preparing him," his uncle Arnold Pistorius, a family spokesman, told local broadcaster ENCA.
Paralympic gold medalist Samkelo Radebe told Reuters TV: "We still stand behind him you know, we still want to see him come back and run and do what he's well known for and that's being a hero and changing people's lives"
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Ed Cropley and Angus MacSwan)