Pistorius eyes bail as hearing enters final stretch
"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, charged with murder for shooting dead his girlfriend, arrived in court Friday hoping to secure bail after three days of hearings saw the prosecution's case seriously undermined.
Prosecutors accuse the star sprinter of premeditated murder over the Valentine’s Day killing of his model law graduate girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his upscale home.
Pistorius denies the charge, saying that he shot 29-year-old Steenkamp repeatedly through a locked bathroom door in the dead of night by accident, having mistaken her for a burglar.
On Friday, the prosecution is expected to wrap up its closing arguments and Magistrate Desmond Nair will then have to decide whether to make a decision on bail or delay his finding until after the weekend.
The prosecution has seen its evidence repeatedly picked apart during the week’s proceedings, giving what observers say is a good chance for Pistorius to be released on bail as he awaits trial for the killing.
In a stunning development on Thursday, South Africa’s police commissioner Riah Phiyega unceremoniously ditched the lead detective on the case, Hilton Botha, after he bumbled through testimony and it emerged that he himself was facing seven attempted murder charges for having opened fire on a minibus in 2011.
“We recognise the significance, the importance and the severity of the matter,” Phiyega said naming the country’s top detective, Lieutenant General Vineshkumar Moonoo to the case.
Lawyers following the case say the state has failed to present a strong enough case to keep Pistorius behind bars.
“He’ll get bail because of the state’s weak presentation of its case,” attorney William Tintinger told AFP. “The state can’t prove that the killing was premeditated.”
Another attorney agreed, adding: “That’s what everyone’s been thinking who I’ve talked to.”
Botha’s removal from the case comes a day after Pistorius’ defence team went after him in the witness box.
Summing up his case on Thursday, defence lawyer Barry Roux told the court: “The poor quality of the evidence of investigating officer Botha further exposed … the disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.”
Roux had earlier cast doubt on key prosecution witness evidence suggesting the couple, who had been dating since late last year, had an bust-up before the shooting.
Prosecutors repeatedly backtracked on allegations made from the Botha’s time on the stand.
Police had claimed to have found testosterone and needles in a dresser in Pistorius’s bedroom. They later said the substance was unknown.
Botha himself was forced to admit that Pistorius’s claims were “consistent” with the crime scene.
On Thursday he said of the investigation: “I’m sure it could have been handled better.”
Steenkamp was found by medics in the early hours of Thursday last week at Pistorius’s luxury Pretoria home covered in bloodied towels, with bullet wounds to her head, elbow and hip. She died at the scene.
In a statement read out in court earlier this week Pistorius said that he had fired at the door of the bathroom as he was “filled with horrible fear” that someone had sneaked in through an open window in the dead of night.
The 26-year-old athlete has previously said he kept a gun in his bedroom because of fears of violent home invasion.
The Olympian and Paralympian sprinter, who has been in police custody for over a week, could face months or perhaps years in pre-trial detention if he does not win bail.
“There will be a level of shock in this country if he is not released,” his lawyer Roux claimed Thursday to murmurs of agreement from Pistorius family members sitting in the gallery.
But prosecutor Gerrie Nel on Thursday pointed out gaps in Pistorius’ own account of the shooting.
“He fired four shots, not one. He meant to kill. On his own version, he’s bound to be convicted,” said Nel.
Under South African law someone who kills without immediate threat can be charged with murder or culpable homicide.
Pistorius also could not explain how he ran past his bed twice without realising Steenkamp wasn’t there.
“You want to protect her but you don’t look at her?” Nel asked sarcastically, as the athlete huddled sobbing quietly.
Pistorius has often cut a sorry figure sitting alone in the dock, having lost weight and showing several grey hairs.
Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games in London last year, inspiring scores around the world.
Since the shooting the runner has lost endorsement contracts with Nike, sunglasses maker Oakley and French cosmetics firm Clarins.
Off the track he has had a rocky private life with stories of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars.
He has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defence.