Pistorius granted bail in killing of girlfriend
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PRETORIA, South Africa -- After four days of combative hearings, a South African magistrate Friday granted bail for Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee track star accused of murdering his girlfriend, in a case that has horrified and fascinated the nation and much of the world.
Magistrate Desmond Nair announced the decision after impassioned final arguments from the defense and the prosecution in Courtroom C of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court.
The prosecution claims that Mr. Pistorius gunned down his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate, on Feb. 14 after she locked herself in a small bathroom in his sprawling home in a gated complex in Pretoria. Mr. Pistorius, 26, says he mistook Ms. Steenkamp for a burglar.
The prosecution argued that Mr. Pistorius should not get bail because he could flee the country and had a history of violence. But Magistrate Nair rejected these arguments, saying he did not represent a flight risk and was not likely to interfere with state witnesses.
Magistrate Nair set bail at 1 million rand (about $112,000), an unusually high amount for a murder trial in South Africa, and ordered a series of conditions before the case was adjourned to June 4. Mr. Pistorius was told to relinquish firearms and passports and to avoid his home, which is now declared a crime scene.
Mr. Pistorius was told he could not contact witnesses, leave the Pretoria area without permission or use drugs or alcohol while the trial is pending. He was instructed to report to a police station twice a week.
Before announcing his ruling, the magistrate recounted the four days of conflicting arguments by defense and prosecution lawyers.
Magistrate Nair sharply questioned Mr. Pistorius' account of what happened the night Ms. Steenkamp died, asking why he had fired into the bathroom door without asking who was there, why he had not seen that Ms. Steenkamp was not in the bed beside him when he arose to check out a strange noise, and why he had not fled rather than confront an intruder. These questions are likely to be central to the murder trial.
But Magistrate Nair also took particular issue with the testimony and actions of the prosecution's lead investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, who has since been removed from the case, saying the officer made "several errors and concessions" and "blundered" in gathering evidence. "It is his evidence that may have been tarnished by cross-examination, not the state case," he said.
In an aside to the case, the South Africa edition of Heat, a celebrity gossip magazine, on Friday published what it said was Ms. Steenkamp's last interview, a week before her death, in which she said the couple had not been discussing their relationship in the media "because I don't want to get it tainted. I don't want anything coming in the way of his career," she said, according to an advance excerpt from the interview. "He's such an amazing athlete.
"You know what they [tabloid media] do, they make things up, 'Reeva cheats on Oscar,' and rubbish like that. I wouldn't want lies about us jeopardizing it."
First Published February 23, 2013 12:00 am