Police case challenged by Pistorius defence

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

Oscar Pistorius may learn today whether he is to get bail while facing charges of premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Yesterday, the second day of his bail application hearing, several aspects of the police case came under sustained challenge from his defence team.

The main detective on the case, warrant officer Hilton Botha, was queried about what he described as “two boxes of testosterone, needles and injections” in Mr Pistorius’s bedroom, items the defence says is a “herbal remedy” called testo-composutim co-enzyme, used by many athletes.

“It is not a steroid and it is not a banned substance,” said Barry Roux, Mr Pistorius’s defence lawyer.

Det Botha was also pressed on the distance from the house of a witness, which he changed during testimony from 600m to 300m. Det Botha acknowledged that Mr Pistorius’s legal team had found a spent bullet cartridge in the toilet bowl that his officers did not.

Mr Roux confronted Det Botha, saying: “You were in the house walking with unprotected shoes. That should not happen.” Det Botha conceded that it should not.

Witness evidence

Earlier, the state prosecutor opposing the bail application of Pistorius introduced witness evidence that continuous fighting had been heard at the athlete’s home on the morning his lover was shot dead.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel introduced a range of evidence he contended showed the Paralympic gold medallist was guilty of murdering his model girlfriend.

Although Mr Pistorius (26) has not made an official plea in relation to the premeditated murder charge he faces, he has denied he intentionally killed Ms Steenkamp, who he only started dating late last year, arguing that he thought he was confronting a burglar.

The state is opposing Mr Pistorius’s bail application because it says it believes he is a flight risk. A full trial is not expected to take place for many months.

When it was Mr Nel’s turn to detail why the state opposed bail, he questioned Det Botha, who said: “We have a statement of a person who said after he heard gunshots, he went to his balcony and saw the light was on [in Mr Pistorius’s home]. Then he heard a female screaming two, three times, then more gunshots.”

Opened fire

In his affidavit, Mr Pistorius claimed he had been asleep until only moments before he opened fire on what he believed to be an intruder in the bathroom.

However, Det Botha said his preliminary investigations led him to believe Mr Pistorius knew the victim was in the bathroom when he took his 9mm pistol and put four bullets through the closed door.

Although the forensic and ballistic test results have still to be completed, he explained the angle of the shots – high on the door, not low down – indicated the accused had his prostheses on and was standing when he fired.

This is also contrary to what Mr Pistorius said in his affidavit. “It appeared to me that it was fired down,” he said. “I measured it against myself.”

A bloodied cricket bat has been the subject of much speculation since it was leaked the police had found one at the scene.

However, Det Botha confirmed the top panel of the bathroom door was broken and that parts of the door were found inside the bathroom. “We think now the bat was used to gain entry,” said Det Botha.

When asked whether he opposed Mr Pistorius getting bail Mr Botha said: “Yes, because he is a flight risk.” He added the man known as the Blade Runner, because of the prosthetic legs he uses to race, had the funds one would need to flee the country.

Defence inroads

The state did not have everything its own way, however, as Mr Pistorius’s defence appeared to make inroads when Barry Roux cross-examined Mr Botha about the police investigation.

Mr Roux maintained the witness lived up to 600m away from Mr Pistorius’s house in the Pretoria security complex where the incident occurred, and the only screaming he heard was from the distressed athlete.

After questioning Det Botha further on details in his investigation report, Mr Roux asked if his client’s version of events – that he thought there was an intruder in the house then realised it was his lover – could be accurate.

Mr Botha replied: “I can’t say because I have not seen all the forensic statements, but I would say the applicant’s version is consistent with the evidence.”

In addition, Mr Roux said an autopsy showed Ms Steenkamp’s bladder was empty, which was consistent with someone who had just relieved themselves.

Scream

The advocate then asked Mr Botha if the deceased would have locked herself in the bathroom after hearing Mr Pistorius scream there was an intruder.

“That is true,” he replied.

After another emotional day for Mr Pistorius, who appeared extremely distressed at times, he was remanded in custody by magistrate Desmond Nair who postponed proceedings to today. – (Additional reporting: Guardian service)