Pistorius detective faces attempted murder charges
The lead detective in the Oscar Pistorius investigation faces seven charges of attempted murder, South African police revealed Thursday, leaving the prosecution case against the star sprinter in tatters.
Police made the shock announcement as Pistorius himself suffered a new blow when US sportswear giant Nike said it has suspended its contract with the double amputee champion known as “Blade Runner”.
Pistorius was back in court on Thursday for the third day of a bail hearing over the Valentine’s Day shooting of his 29-year-old model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Detective Hilton Botha, whose testimony was repeatedly challenged by defence attorneys on Wednesday, is facing charges for shooting at a minibus taxi in 2009, police said.
“We were only informed yesterday that attempted murder charges against Hilton Botha have been reinstated,” police spokesman Neville Malila told AFP
Pistorius’s lawyers had torn into Botha’s police work at Wednesday’s hearing, undermining his witnesses and forcing him to agree that the Olympian’s version of events fitted the crime scene.
“It sounds consistent,” Botha told the court.
Prosecutors allege it was a premeditated killing, but Pistorius has said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot repeatedly through a locked bathroom door in the dead of night and did not intend to kill her.
The law graduate and cover girl was found by medics covered in bloodied towels and wearing white shorts and a black vest, with bullet wounds to her head, elbow and hip.
On Thursday, defence lawyer Barry Roux again pilloried Botha and what he called “disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case”.
The Olympian and Paralympian sprinter, who has been in custody for a week, could face months or perhaps years in pre-trial detention if he does not win bail.
Arguing that Pistorius would be a flight risk, the prosecution quoted a magazine article in which the runner claimed to “have a house” in Italy.
But his coach Ampie Louw told AFP the property is actually a training facility built by the local government and a hotel, where the athlete goes regularly to train and unwind.
“We all call it home… but the hotel has been a family business for years,” he said.
Louw said that if Pistorius is granted bail he wanted to get the runner — who became a hero to millions when he became the first double amputee to compete at the 2012 Olympics — back on the track.
“I’m going to speak with him and try to get him going.”
Pistorius’s career has been put on hold since the shooting, forcing him to cancel a number of races.
Nike on Thursday became the latest in a series of corporate giants to halt endorsements which have earned the 26-year-old millions of dollars. US sunglasses maker Oakley has already suspended its contract with him and French cosmetics firm Clarins said it was dropping an advertising featuring Pistorius.
As the controversy over the police investigation swirled, Botha admitted in the witness stand on Thursday: “I’m sure it could have been handled better.”
Botha has conceded he did not wear protective clothing when Pistorius’s forensic team visited his luxury Pretoria home where the killing took place, which may have contaminated the scene.
He was further forced to admit that police had not seen a bullet that hit the toilet basin and which was only discovered four days later by the defence forensic team.
Roux on Wednesday also threw doubt on key prosecution witness evidence suggesting the couple, who had been dating since late last year, had rowed before the shooting.
A woman who lives in the same high security complex as Pistorius “heard talking that sounded like non-stop fighting from two to three in the morning,” hours before she was killed, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said.
Another witness “heard a female screaming two-three times, then more gunshots,” Botha said.
But Roux disputed the accounts, as police said one witness was at least 300 metres (nearly 1,000 feet) from the house and the other had misheard the number of gunshots.
Pistorius’s family said in a statement it was “satisfied” with the bail hearing, but “finds the contradictions in Botha’s testimony extremely concerning”.
Prosecutors also later backtracked on allegations that a police search had found testosterone and needles in a dresser in Pistorius’s bedroom.
“We can’t tell what it is,” national prosecuting authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. “We can’t confirm or deny it until we get the forensic report.”
The athlete, who off the track has had a rocky private life with stories of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defence.