What began Wednesday as a day for the prosecution to solidify what it had described as an irrefutable case of premeditated murder against...
PRETORIA, South Africa — What began Wednesday as a day for the prosecution to solidify what it had described as an irrefutable case of premeditated murder against Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic champion, turned into a near-rout by the defense, which attacked the testimony of the state’s main witness, the chief police investigator.
It was the second full day of a hearing to decide whether Pistorius, the double amputee nicknamed Blade Runner who made Olympic history by running with able-bodied athletes in the 2012 Games in London, should be given bail as he awaits trial for shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, early last Thursday. Pistorius claimed in an affidavit read in court Tuesday that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar and had shot her out of fear.
But what was supposed to be merely a bail hearing took on the proportions of a full-blown trial, with sharp questions from the presiding magistrate, Desmond Nair, and a withering cross-examination that left the prosecution’s main witness, Detective Hilton Botha, grasping for answers.
Also, South African police say Botha faces attempted murder charges in an October 2011 shooting. (Police Brig. Neville Malila said Thursday that Botha is scheduled to appear in court in May on seven counts of attempted murder. Malila says Botha and two other police officers fired shots while trying to stop a minivan in the incident.)
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At first, Botha’s testimony seemed to go well. He explained how preliminary ballistic evidence supported the prosecution’s assertion that Pistorius had been wearing prosthetic legs when he shot at the bathroom door, behind which hid Steenkamp. Pistorius claimed in his affidavit that he had hobbled over from his bedroom on his stumps, and felt extremely vulnerable to an intruder as a result.
As Botha described how bullets had pierced Steenkamp’s skull and shattered her arm and hip bones, Pistorius sobbed with his head in his hands.
“A defenseless woman, unarmed, was gunned down,” Botha said.
Using a schematic diagram of the bedroom, the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, asked Botha to walk Nair through the crime scene. The detective explained that Steenkamp’s slippers and overnight bag were on the left side of the bed, next to the sliding balcony door that Pistorius claimed he got up in the middle of the night to close. He also said the holster of Pistorius’ 9 mm pistol was found under the left side of the bed, next to where Steenkamp would have been sleeping. That called into question Pistorius’ statement that he thought Steenkamp was still in bed when he heard the sound of a burglar, the detective said.
Botha said investigators had found two boxes of testosterone along with syringes and needles in Pistorius’ bedroom. Testosterone is a banned substance for most professional athletes, and is known to increase aggression in people who take supplements of it.
Asked by Nel what he would have done had he suspected that an intruder was in his bedroom, Botha replied, “I would get my girlfriend and try to get her out of the room.”