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Pistorius granted bail pending murder trial

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 10:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 10:31 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Themba Hadebe/AP)
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during his bail hearing Friday at the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa.

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) – A South African magistrate allowed Oscar Pistorius to go free on bail Friday, capping hearings that foreshadow a dramatic trial in the Valentine’s Day killing of the star athlete’s girlfriend.

Pistorius’ family members and supporters shouted “Yes!” when Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair made his decision after a more than 1 hour and 45 minute explanation of his ruling to a packed courtroom.

Radio stations and a TV news network in South Africa broadcast the audio of the decision live, and even international channels like the BBC and CNN went live with it, underscoring the huge global interest in the case.

Nair set the bail at 1 million rand ($113,000).

The magistrate said Pistorius must hand over his passports and also turn in any other guns that he owns. Pistorius also cannot leave the district of Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, without the permission of his probation officer, Nair said, nor can he take drugs or drink alcohol.

The double-amputee Olympian’s next court appearance was set for June 4. He left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover, sitting in the rear, just over an hour after the magistrate imposed the bail conditions. The vehicle, tailed by a motorcycle with a TV cameraman aboard, later pulled into the home of Pistorius’ uncle.

The magistrate ruled that Pistorius could not return to his upscale home in a gated community in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, where the killing of Reeva Steenkamp took place.

Pistorius’ uncle, Arnold Pistorius said: “We are relieved at the fact that Oscar got bail today but at the same time we are in mourning for the death of Reeva with her family. As a family, we know Oscar’s version of what happened on that tragic night and we know that that is the truth and that will prevail in the coming court case.”

Nair made the ruling after four days of arguments from prosecution and defense in Pistorius’ bail hearing. During Friday’s long session in Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, Pistorius alternately wept and appeared solemn and more composed, especially toward the end as Nair criticized police procedures in the case and as a judgment in Pistorius’ favor appeared imminent.

Nair had banned cameras from Friday’s dramatic bail hearing and complained about cameras constantly “flashing” in Pistorius’ face the previous three days of hearings, saying the spectacle made the athlete look like “some kind of species the world has never seen before.”

Nair said Pistorius’ sworn statement, in which he gave his version of the events of the shooting during the predawn hours of Feb. 14 in a sworn statement, had helped his application for bail.

“I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail,” Nair said.

Pistorius said in the sworn statement that he shot his girlfriend — a model and budding reality TV contestant — accidentally, believing she was an intruder in his house.

Prosecutors say he intended to kill Steenkamp and charged him with premeditated murder, saying the shooting followed a loud argument between the two.

Sharon Steenkamp, Reeva’s cousin, had said earlier that the family wouldn’t be watching the bail decision and hadn’t been following the hearing in Pretoria.

“It doesn’t make any difference to the fact that we are without Reeva,” she told The Associated Press.

Despite the bail decision, prosecution spokesman Medupe Simasiku said: “We’re still confident in our case,” outside court.

Pistorius faced the sternest bail requirements in South Africa because of the seriousness of the charge, and his defense lawyers had to prove that he would not flee the country, would not interfere with witnesses or the case, and his release would not cause public unrest.

Nair questioned whether Pistorius would be a flight risk and be prepared to go “ducking and diving” around the world when he stood to lose a fortune in cash, cars, property and other assets. Nair also said that while it had been shown that Pistorius had aggressive tendencies, he did not have a prior record of offenses for violent acts.

He criticized Hilton Botha, the previous lead investigator in the case, for not doing more to uncover evidence that the Olympian had violent tendencies.

“There is ample room and ample time to do that by looking at the background of the accused,” he said.

But while Nair leveled harsh criticism at former lead investigator Botha for “errors” and “blunders,” he said one man does not represent the state’s case and that the state could not be expected to put all the pieces of its puzzle together in such a short time.

Anticipating the shape of the state’s case at trial, he said he had serious questions about Pistorius’ account: Why he didn’t try to locate his girlfriend on fearing an intruder was in the house, why he didn’t try to determine who was in the toilet and why he would venture into perceived “danger” - the bathroom area - when he could have taken other steps to ensure his safety.

“There are improbabilities which need to be explored,” Nair said, adding that Pistorius could clarify these matters by testifying under oath at trial.

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