Is it possible to imagine a story more bizarre than that of Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic sprinter with no legs who shot his model girlfriend dead on Valentine’s Day only to be charged with premeditated murder by a police officer who, it turned out Thursday, is himself facing imminent trial on seven counts of attempted murder? As Pistorius’ application for bail entered its fourth day at Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, South African Police Service National Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega confirmed that the lead police investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, would face his own trial in May with two other officers. The allegation against the three is that two years ago, while driving a police car, they opened fire on a minibus taxi loaded with passengers. (Botha has been pulled off the case and replaced by Lieut. General Vinesh Moonoo.) In court, Pistorius counsel Barry Roux made no direct mention of the new development. But referring to Botha’s evidence on Wednesday — when the officer admitted a series of errors, misunderstandings and weaknesses in his case before conceding his evidence did not contradict Pistorius’ account that he shot Reeva Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a burglar — Roux said: “The poor quality of the evidence offered by investigative officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings of the state’s case.”
Pistorius is a double amputee who has competed in both the Olympics and the Paralympics on distinctive thin carbon-fiber running protheses and became a global star at the 2012 London Games. On Tuesday, the 26-year-old said he and Steenkamp, 29, went to bed on Feb. 13 soon after 10 p.m. after a quiet dinner at his home in Pretoria. At around 3 a.m., Pistorius said he woke, fetched a fan from his balcony, then heard a noise from the bathroom when he stepped back into the bedroom. Reaching for a 9-mm pistol he kept under his bed, he called out to the intruder, then shot four times through the door. Inside, Steenkamp was shot in the head, hip and elbow. She died shortly afterward.
On Thursday, after Roux finished his submissions, it was the turn of State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel. Nel repeatedly called Pistorius’ account “improbable.” “Not even in his own version was there any imminent danger in the bedroom whatsoever,” said Nel. “There are two people in the house and you hear a noise. Do you immediately assume it’s a burglar and not the person next to you?” Later, he asked: “He got up in the night and walked past her two times and didn’t notice she wasn’t there? You want to protect her, but you don’t even look at her. You don’t even ask, ‘Reeva, are you all right?’” Calling into question Pistorius’ testimony that, not wearing his prostheses and keenly aware of South Africa’s high violent crime, the athlete felt in danger, he added: “This vulnerable person, on his own version, stormed the danger.”
Even if Pistorius’ version were taken at face value, Nel argued, it was still murder. “His actions were indicative of a man ready and willing to fire to kill,” said Nel. “He fired four shots, not one shot. The only reason you fire four shots is to kill. ‘I didn’t plan to shoot Reeva, but I planned to shoot that intruder.’ Even on his version of events, it’s planned. On his own version, he’s bound to be convicted.”
Nel added that past evidence of Pistorius threatening others indicated Pistorius had a “fiery” temperament. “We argue the love being described by the witnesses wasn’t from the night of the incident,” he said. “What else is threats and a murder than [being] prone to violence?” An incident where Pistorius admitted firing a gun in a restaurant also showed poor character, said Nel. “We’ve gained insight into the person Oscar Pistorius,” he said. “It wasn’t disputed he discharged a firearm by accident and let someone else take blame.”
Nel said the defense’s rhetorical question in support of their client’s application for bail was: “Why would an internationally renowned athlete flee the country?” To which, said Nel, the prosecution’s answer was: “Why would an internationally renowned athlete handle a firearm in public?” And: “Why would the deceased, at 3 a.m. when she has the urge to relieve herself, take her cell phone and put it down in the bathroom?” Pistorius, concluded Nel, “wants to continue with his life as if this incident never happened. This total lack of insight and willingness to take responsibility for his deeds increases his flight risk.”
The hearing was adjourned until Friday.