Pistorius granted bail in murder trial
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius was granted bail Friday, paving the way for him to be freed from custody pending his trial in the Valentine’s Day shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair made the ruling Friday after four days of arguments from prosecution and defense in Pistorius’ bail hearing, and after spending about one hour and 45 minutes announcing his decision.
Nair said Pistorius’ affidavit, in which he gave his version of the events of the shooting on the morning of Feb. 14 in a sworn statement, had helped his application for bail in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.
Pistorius’ supporters shouted “Yes” when the magistrate made his ruling. Nair then ordered a court break before establishing the terms of the bail.
Pistorius is charged with one count of premeditated murder in the Feb. 14 killing of Reeva Steenkamp. He says he accidentally shot her, thinking she was a dangerous intruder inside his home, lurking in a toilet stall off his bedroom.
Pistorius’ hands trembled as he said “good morning, your worship” as the session began in Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. For the first time in the hearing, two representatives of the Steenkamp family were present in court, sitting behind and to the left of Pistorius in the public gallery.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called Pistorius’ version that he shot Steenkamp accidentally improbable and argued that Pistorius did not have to have planned the killing for days in advance for it to be premediated.
“He planned it that night when she (Steenkamp) locked herself in (the toilet),” Nel said in response to a question from the magistrate on why Pistorius hadn’t staged a break-in at his home to make his story look more believable. “The fact that we have only one survivor of that tragic night is difficult for the state.”
Pistorius’ defense lawyer, Barry Roux, brought up culpable homicide as a possible charge for the first time in the case when answering questions from the magistrate.
“He did not want to kill Reeva. He had no intent to kill Reeva,” Roux said as Pistorius began weeping again — like he has done for much of his bail hearing.
Roux said it was impossible for Pistorius, as famous as he is and with his prostheses, to escape South Africa before trial and bail should be granted.
“Let me tell you how difficult it is for this man to disappear from this world,” Roux said.
Prosecutor Nel earlier countered that everyone, whether disabled or famous or otherwise different from the majority, should be treated equally under the law. Nel noted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is famous but is now holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex-related charges.
Stephen Tuson, an adjunct law professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a practicing attorney, told The Associated Press that poor health, a weak state case or a disability could be reasons to grant bail to a person accused of murder. But the “exceptional” circumstances Pistorius would have to prove to be freed are not established absolutely by law and are applied considering the individual merits of each case.
“(The matter of exceptional reasons) is not defined,” Tuson said. “We’ve had to have this concept expanded by the courts on a case by case basis.”
Pistorius’ defense has dedicated much of its argument in the bail hearing to questioning the state’s case against Pistorius and trying to discredit the police investigation into Steenkamp’s shooting. Lead investigator Hilton Botha was removed from the case Thursday following his bungled testimony for the prosecution and replaced by the South African police’s top detective, Vinesh Moonoo — who was in court Friday.
Defense lawyer Roux also stressed Pistorius’ disability Friday and said it was one of the reasons why he couldn’t easily flee the country.