Pistorius Trial: Police adds confusion to case
Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2013
PRETORIA, South Africa — The prosecution case against Oscar Pistorius began to unravel Wednesday with revelations of a series of police blunders and the lead investigator’s admission that authorities have no evidence challenging the double-amputee Olympian’s claim he killed his girlfriend accidentally.
Detective Hilton Botha’s often confused testimony left prosecutors rubbing their heads in frustration as he misjudged distances and said testosterone — banned for professional athletes in some cases — was found at the scene, only to be later contradicted by the prosecutor’s office.
The second day of what was supposed to be a mere bail hearing almost resembled a full-blown trial for the 26-year-old runner.
Police, Botha acknowledPistorius portrayed himself as a lover caught in tragedy, wielding a pistol and frightened as he stood only on his stumps, then killed his girlfriend after mistaking her for an intruder on Valentine’s Day.
Prosecutors, however, said the double-amputee Olympian committed premeditated murder, planning the slaying, then firing at Reeva Steenkamp as she cowered behind his locked bathroom door with no hope of escape.
“She couldn’t go anywhere,” Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told a packed courtroom Tuesday. “It must have been horrific.”
Weeping uncontrollably, Pistorius listened as his words were read out in court by his attorney during the opening of a two-day bail hearing, his first public account of the events surrounding the shooting death of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star who had spoken out against violence against women.
“I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder, as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp,” Pistorius said in the sworn affidavit. “I deny the aforesaid allegation in the strongest terms.”
It was the first time that the prosecution and Pistorius provided details of their radically divergent accounts of the killing, which has shocked South Africans and fans worldwide, who idolized the 26-year-old track star known as the Blade Runner for overcoming his disability to compete in last summer’s London Olympics.
Nel said Pistorius committed premeditated murder when he rose from his bed after a fight with Steenkamp, pulled on his prosthetic legs and walked about 20 feet from his bedroom to the locked toilet door and pumped it with four bullets, three of which hit the model.
That contradicted the runner’s statement, read aloud by defense attorney Barry Roux, who described how the couple spent a quiet night together in the athlete’s upscale home in a gated community in the capital of Pretoria, then went to sleep around 10 p.m.
Sometime before dawn, Pistorius said he awoke, and walking only on his stumps, pulled a fan in from an open balcony and closed it. That’s when he said he heard a noise and became alarmed because the bathroom window, which had no security bars, was open and workers had left ladders nearby.
“It filled me with horror and fear,” Pistorius said in the statement.
“I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes,” he said. “I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night.”
Too frightened to turn on a light, Pistorius said, he pulled out his pistol and headed for the bathroom, believing Steenkamp was still asleep “in the pitch dark” of the bedroom.
“As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself,” he said, adding he shouted to Steenkamp to call the police as he fired at the toilet door.
It was then, Pistorius said, that he realized Steenkamp was not in bed.
He said he pulled on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the toilet door before finally giving up and bashing it in with a cricket bat. Inside, he said he found Steenkamp, slumped over but still alive. He said he lifted her bloodied body and carried her downstairs to seek medical help.
But it was too late. “She died in my arms,” Pistorius said.
“We were deeply in love and I could not be happier,” the athlete said.
“I know she felt the same way. She had given me a present for Valentine’s Day but asked me only to open it the next day.”