Without bail, Oscar Pistorius faces time in brutal South African prison

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Oscar Pistorius faces months in one of South Africa's most notorious and dangerous prisons if he fails in his bid for bail before being tried for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The Blade Runner's defense counsel battled with the prosecution for a third straight day on Thursday and it is expected that the bail hearing that will determine Pistorius' immediate future will finally conclude on Friday.

Legal experts believe the matter hangs in the balance, but the decision that will be made by chief magistrate Desmond Nair has extreme repercussions for Pistorius.

A denial of bail would see the 26-year-old athlete held in Pretoria Central Prison, a sprawling complex on the edge of the South African capital that comes with a fearsome reputation after years of allegations of violence, rape, cramped conditions and a sinister-sounding inner sanctum known as "The Pot" that previously held death row inmates during the apartheid era.

It is not known what provisions would be provided for Pistorius on account of his disability – he uses prosthetic limbs after undergoing a double amputation as a child before going on to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympics.

Some reports have suggested that his prostheses would not be permitted in prison and that he would be forced to use a wheelchair, although this has not been confirmed.

[Related: Lead detective in Pistorius case faces his own attempted murder charges]

Inmates at the jail sleep in communal dormitories measuring 100 feet x 30 feet, each holding 17 bunk beds. Much like the entire South African prison system, it has suffered from overcrowding and unrest.

Just two weeks ago, six inmates brought a court case against the prison in an attempt to improve what they described as their "inhumane living conditions."

"Gangsters want to have sex with me and threaten to stab me if I tell the officials," complainant Werner Wessels told the court in a statement. "Drugs are freely available in jail and I have a serious drug problem for which I do not get help."

Other inmates described unhygienic conditions, with dirty mattresses, no bedding and uncomfortable, bright orange prison jump suits.

"Prison in South Africa is notoriously a very dangerous place," renowned criminologist Laurie Pieters told the Daily Telegraph. "Everyone knows who he is.

"You could have one lot targeting him for money and then another lot offering him protection for money. How is he going to handle that?"

On Thursday, defense attorney Barry Roux was doing his best to ensure Pistorius never has to find out the realities of life at Pretoria Central, arguing strongly in favor of bail as his client once more sobbed openly as details of Steenkamp's Valentine's Day death – now a full week ago – were read aloud.

Roux tried to continue the strong momentum that the defense built up on Wednesday, when the experienced trial advocate dismantled the evidence of investigating officer Hilton Botha.

Botha became even more of a central figure on Thursday morning, when Eyewitness News reported the police detective was himself accused of seven counts of attempted murder following an alleged shooting in 2011. He was later withdrawn from the case.

Roux relied heavily on the holes in Botha's report in his final bail plea and insisted there is "nothing to support that [Pistorius] be further incarcerated."

However, prosecutor Gerrie Nel was adamant that Pistorius has not shown the "exceptional circumstances" as to why he should be bailed that are required under the schedule 6 pre-meditated murder crime with which he is charged. Nel said that Pistorius' story that he believed an intruder had entered his house, sparking the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, was "untested," as the athlete only gave evidence via an affidavit and did not submit himself for cross-examination.

Compared to the damning evidential claims put forward a day earlier, Thursday's proceedings were a little slower, but there was still the kind of drama and mild farce that has become a regular sight in what has effectively become a mini-trial.

Before the day's action began, a woman understood to be the ex-wife of Pistorius' surgeon attempted to file a motion to suspend the case and order an immediate mental evaluation of the track star.

The woman was given short shrift by magistrate Nair and both sets of legal counsel and was told that such a motion would need to be filed at the South African High Court.

Inside the red-brick courtroom, the improvement in Pistorius' plight was reflected by the buoyant nature of his brother Carl, who strode purposely into the back benches to shake hands with and thank supporters. Down the front though, a full box of tissues had been placed for the use of Oscar Pistorius, who again struggled to control his emotions.

Much of the session was spent rehashing previous evidence, especially that of Botha, although one fresh point of conjecture concerned an interview Pistorius gave in a magazine last year. The prosecution claims the interview gave details of a property the runner owns in Gemona, Italy, where he has regularly trained in the past. Roux denied the existence of such a property.

The bail hearing continues.

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