Murder accused Pistorius freed on bail

South African Paralympic athlete and murder-accused Oscar Pistorius stands at the dock before the start of proceedings at a Pretoria magistrates court. photograph: mike hutchings/reuters

South African Paralympic athlete and murder-accused Oscar Pistorius stands at the dock before the start of proceedings at a Pretoria magistrates court. photograph: mike hutchings/reuters

Sat, Feb 23, 2013, 00:00

With an audible gasp of “yes” from members of his family, South African Paralympic athlete and murder-accused Oscar Pistorius was granted bail yesterday.

A magistrate ruled that because the police had failed to prove he was a flight risk likely to abscond or a danger to others if given restricted freedom.

Mr Pistorius’s family and supporters, who had watched nervously as the magistrate, Desmond Nair, gave a two-hour preamble, were delighted when eventually he gave and explained his decision.“I cannot find that it has been established that the accused is a flight risk,” he said, prompting some of Mr Pistorius’s family to shout out “yes” in unison.

Mr Pistorius (26), also known as the Blade Runner because of the carbon fibre blades he uses to race, is charged with murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (29) in the early hours of February 14th.

The Paralympic gold medallist has admitted he shot his lover dead, but claims he did so by accident, mistaking her for an intruder who gained entry to his Pretoria home.

Mr Nair added his decision was also shaped by warrant officer Hilton Botha, the lead investigator in the case until he was replaced on Thursday, not spending enough time showing the accused had a propensity to commit violence.

Mr Nair was also extremely critical of the evidence given by Mr Botha while on the witness stand, and he questioned his credibility.

“Botha may well have contaminated the crime scene by not wearing protective shoes; Botha blundered on the exact nature of substance and needles found on scene; Botha didn’t check on Pistorius’s call to emergency services,” he outlined.

‘Reaching out’

In relation to the accused, Mr Nair said Mr Pistorius’s affidavit, in which he recounted his version of the events, had helped his application for bail.

“That reaching out in the affidavit, the way that he did, placing it before the court,” Nair said. “I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail.”

However, he also questioned aspects of the statement, especially why the accused would approach the bathroom where he believed danger was lurking.

In his affidavit Mr Pistorius said he had heard noises coming from the bathroom after he woke in the middle of the night. He maintained he thought it was an intruder, and this prompted him to get his gun and shoot through the closed door.

“I have a problem with why the accused would venture further into danger . . . What if the intruder was waiting for him?” he asked, before adding: “I also have difficulty in understanding why the accused did not check where his girlfriend was, or ask who was in the toilet.”

Despite the ruling, Mr Pistorius, who had been tearful and emotional for much of the four-day hearing, showed little emotion when told he will not be incarcerated between now and his forthcoming murder trial.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing at Pretoria Magistrate’s Court a clearly relieved Arnold Pistorius, the athlete’s uncle, said his family was relieved, but was also “in mourning”.

He added they were grateful to Magistrate Nair and to Mr Pistorius’s legal team who had “worked professionally” to secure his release.

“As a family we know Oscar’s version of what happened that tragic night. We know that is the truth and will prevail,” he said.

Bail was set at one million rand (€86,000), of which R100,000 had to be paid to the court up front before Mr Pistorius would be released. The remainder of the money must be lodged at the court on or before March 1st.

Cannot go home

In addition, Mr Pistorius must reside at an undisclosed address and cannot return to his home at Silver Woods Estate in Pretoria, where the murder occurred. He must hand in his passport, stay away from airports and sign on at his local police station each day from Monday to Friday.The case was postponed until June 4th next.