Oscar Pistorius' bid for bail appeared to receive a major boost Wednesday when his legal team fought to expose holes in a series of damning claims surrounding his alleged murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
On the second day of his bail hearing at Pretoria Magistrates Court, Pistorius' hopes of avoiding incarceration up until his full trial – likely later this year – seemed to be in tatters until cross-examination of key witness and investigating officer Hilton Botha, a leading figure in the prosecution's case. Botha was the first public official to arrive at the crime scene.
Having leveled several powerful accusations at Pistorius, Botha surprisingly crumbled under cross-examination from defense attorney Barry Roux, giving Pistorius, 26, a glimmer of hope in his bid to be granted bail by chief magistrate Desmond Nair.
Botha had earlier revealed how a witness had reported heavy arguing and shouting coming from the Pistorius house before several shots interspersed by a gap of 17 minutes in which there was further arguing.
Botha also told the court that two boxes of "steroids, testosterone," were found at Pistorius' luxury home in the Silver Lakes executive complex in Pretoria's wealthy eastern suburbs – a claim that Roux disputed. Roux said the "testosterone" found on the scene was actually an herbal remedy, not an illegal substance.
Using a layout diagram of the property, imposed onto a projector for chief magistrate Nair to analyze, Botha showed that the athlete would have had to pass the bed in order to go from the bedroom's balcony to its bathroom, seemingly discrediting Pistorius' assertion on Tuesday that he did not realize Steenkamp had left the bed and gone to the toilet before her killing in the early hours of Valentine's Day.
“No way it was self-defense,” Botha said. “I believe he knew she was in the bathroom when he fired four shots through the door.”
Botha also stated that Pistorius had accidentally fired a shot at a restaurant in January, but had an acquaintance take the blame for the incident. Botha also tried to shed light on a 2009 incident in which Pistorius was accused of assault by a woman, but the case was dropped because of a lack of evidence.
At that point Pistorius' situation looked dire, but Roux did his best to poke holes in the investigator's theory.
Roux first countered by saying it was pitch dark in the room with the blinds and door closed, making it impossible to see whether Steenkamp was in bed. He then forced Botha to confirm there were no assault marks on the body of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old covergirl model and reality television star, apparently quashing the theory of a "bloodied" cricket bat earlier reported in the weekend South African press.
Roux went on to make Botha concede that the witness' house was 600 meters away from that of Pistorius', and that the same witness miscounted the number of shots fired and did not successfully identify Pistorius and Steenkamp as the voices heard. By then, Botha was severely rattled.
Roux asserted to Botha that police couldn't find anything to show inconsistency with Pistorius' version of events, which centered around him believing an intruder had entered the home, prompting him to open fire. "Yes, that's what I said," Both concurred.
Other wins for the defense included:
• Roux noted that the autopsy of Steenkamp showed she had an empty bladder, which he argued is consistent with Pistorius' claim that she got up to use the bathroom.
• Roux asked Botha if he in fact was not wearing protective shoes while inside Pistorius' home. "Yes, it was not deliberate," Botha replied. Roux then claimed Botha contaminated the scene.
• Botha testified that no calls were made from the four cell phones police recovered from the scene. Later, Roux pointed out police never asked if there were other phones and notes that Pistorius made a call to Netcare Hospital at 3:20 a.m.
Wednesday's session began in somewhat farcical fashion with the hearing delayed by more than an hour because a television arranged to provide footage of the hearing to additional media in a second, overflow court, was delivered to the wrong address and could not be installed.
The allegations leveled against Pistorius are no laughing matter: He is a facing a charge of premeditated murder, which can carry a life sentence.
While the runner has offered to surrender his passport and post a heavy bail sum, prosecutor Gerrie Nel insisted Pistorius would be a flight risk if released, pointing out that not only does Pistorius have a multitude of funds in offshore accounts with which to sustain himself, but he also reportedly owns a home in Italy.
Pistorius' family was again in court to support him as Pistorius sobbed and shook visibly once more as evidence was heard. Pistorius' brother, Carl, reached out to comfort him on more than one occasion, including when it was heard Pistorius will face an extra charge for having unlicensed .38 ammunition at the property. Pistorius' attorney later said the ammunition was being held for Pistorius' father.
The final arguments for the bail hearing take place Thursday.
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