Pistorius' lawyer calls police work in killing shoddy
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PRETORIA, South Africa -- Prosecutors on Wednesday unveiled what seemed damning testimony against Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend. But as the day wore on, the defense attorney savaged the state's case, portraying the investigation as bumbling and shoddy.
Laying out what probably will be the basis of their future case, prosecutors told Mr. Pistorius' bail hearing that a witness heard noises sounding like a quarrel shortly before model Reeva Steenkamp was fatally shot the night of Feb. 13. Another neighbor heard a shot, a woman scream, then more gunshots, they said.
The case investigator, Detective Hilton Botha, said Mr. Pistorius didn't phone an ambulance after the shooting. The athlete had a history of threatening people, Mr. Botha told the court, adding that boxes of what the officer first identified as steroids, but later called testosterone, were found in Mr. Pistorius' home.
"I believe that he knew that Reeva was in the bathroom, and he shot four shots through the door and killed her," Detective Botha told the court. Mr. Pistorius stood with his back to two basins in the bathroom and fired from about 9 feet into the enclosed toilet, the prosecution said.
But after defense attorney Barry Roux succeeded in raising questions about the evidence, Mr. Pistorius' hopes of getting bail appeared to have improved. The athlete says he shot Ms. Steenkamp by mistake, convinced that she was a burglar.
South Africans have been enthralled by the stunning twists and turns in the evidence, conveyed by journalists in minute-by-minute tweets as the case unfolds in court. With the major contentions of both sides tested, the bail hearing, which is expected to conclude today, seemed more like a mini-trial.
Under cross examination, Detective Botha admitted that he found nothing at the scene inconsistent with Mr. Pistorius' account that he mistook Ms. Steenkamp for a burglar. He also said the victim had no defensive wounds, nor were there any signs of a struggle or an assault.
Detective Botha acknowledged that the woman who heard what sounded like quarreling at Mr. Pistorius' house lived 600 yards away. Mr. Pistorius' large contingent of supporters in court gasped and tittered at this revelation. Detective Botha later modified that to 300 yards, muttering that he would like to measure the distance.
Mr. Roux attacked the testimony that Mr. Pistorius, a double amputee who competed in last year's London Olympic Games, had boxes of testosterone and needles in his home. He told the court that the substance was an herbal remedy. "It's not a steroid, and it's not a banned substance," Mr. Roux said loudly, leading Detective Botha to admit that he had not read the label fully.
The police claim that Mr. Pistorius hadn't phoned an ambulance after shooting Ms. Steenkamp relied on checks made to several phones found in the bathroom. But Mr. Roux said police failed to check with the medical service provider, Netcare. In fact, he said, Mr. Pistorius called Netcare at 3:20 a.m., minutes after the shooting, from another phone.
Mr. Roux said Mr. Pistorius also called a security guard but forgot to hang up after the call. The security guard heard the sounds of Mr. Pistorius crying over the line, he said.
The neighbor who had reported hearing a woman screaming after the first gunshot also claimed to have heard more shots than were fired, Detective Botha agreed. That neighbor also said the lights were on in the house; Mr. Pistorius has said it was pitch dark.
According to Mr. Roux, the postmortem showed that Ms. Steenkamp's bladder was empty, suggesting that she had awoken to go to the toilet. This was consistent with Mr. Pistorius' story that he heard noises in the bathroom after he went on the balcony to get a fan, he said.
The defense attorney accused the police investigator of discounting any evidence that supported the athlete's story. He hammered the policeman's contention that Mr. Pistorius could be a flight risk based on Detective Botha's contention that the defendant had overseas bank accounts and a house in Italy. Mr. Roux said there was no active cash account, nor any overseas house.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am