Police: Lead investigator in Pistorius case facing attempted murder charges
As Oscar Pistorius returned to court Thursday to seek bail, the sensational case took a new turn when police said the lead investigator is facing seven counts of attempted murder stemming from an incident four years ago.
That investigator, Hilton Botha, and several other police officers apparently fired at a minibus they were chasing in late 2009, spokesman Neville Malila told CNN affiliate eNCA.
The officers were allegedly drunk at the time, the spokesman said.
They were arrested on seven counts of attempted murder — one for each occupant in the minibus, the spokesman said. They were also charged with using firearms under the influence of alcohol, and all of them appeared in court.
The charges were provisionally withdrawn, but the Director of Public Prosecution reinstated them Wednesday and plans to move ahead on the charges later this year, the spokesman said.
In court Thursday, the prosecutors said neither the state, nor Botha, was aware that he might face attempted murder charges, thinking the case had been dropped.
The revelation comes as final arguments began in the bail hearing of the Olympian charged with premeditated murder in the killing of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. A ruling in the hearing could come as soon as Thursday.
At the start of closing arguments, his defense team said that if he wanted to kill his girlfriend, he could have done it in the bedroom. His lawyers challenged the case prosecutors presented, saying they didn’t offer any evidence showing Pistorius committed murder.
Pistorius, 26, has rejected the murder allegation “in the strongest terms,” his agent said in a statement. He has said he thought he was shooting at an intruder.
Also Thursday, Nike announced it has suspended its contract with Pistorius.
“We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” the apparel company said in a statement.
Nike had already pulled a TV ad featuring the sports star.
Would he run?
In a statement Thursday, Pistorius’ family said he is an international icon, which makes it highly unlikely that he’d be a flight risk if granted bail.
The family posted the statement on OscarPistorius.com and said it would use the site to disseminate information about the case.
Botha told Magistrate Desmond Nair that investigators believe Pistorius is violent and might flee if released from jail.
Prosecutors said Pistorius owns a home in Italy, using a Sarie magazine article that quotes him as saying the mayor built him a house in a small Italian town. The defense said he owns no such property.
He described two police encounters with Pistorius, one in which Botha said the track star asked someone else to take the blame when a gun went off at a Johannesburg restaurant.
Police said the second incident took place at a racetrack, where Pistorius allegedly threatened to assault someone.
Authorities said they also have responded to previous domestic incidents at Pistorius’ home but have not elaborated.
In a statement read by his attorney Tuesday, Pistorius said he and Steenkamp were deeply in love and that he was “mortified” over her death.
The women’s branch of South Africa’s ruling party issued a statement asking why Pistorius was being detained in a holding cell at the Brooklyn Police Station — and not at Central Prison or Newlock, where other defendants awaiting trial are kept.
“If there is some special circumstance that permits this, authorities must share this with the public as they are setting a bad precedent,” the statement from the African National Congress Women’s League said. “All should be treated equally before the law no matter your standing in society.”
The group said Pistorius is getting special treatment, adding that his family can visit him even outside visiting hours — unlike families of other inmates.
Pistorius’ lawyers requested Brooklyn last week so they could have access to their client over the weekend. The state did not object.
Prosecutors spent much of the hearing Wednesday focused on the bathroom of Pistorius’ Pretoria home, where authorities say the track star shot Steenkamp three times, in the hip, elbow and ear.
Bullet trajectories show that Pistorius had to turn left and fire at an angle to aim at the toilet, Botha testified. Had he fired head-on into the door, he would have missed her, Botha said.
Defense attorney Barry Roux disputed that, saying the evidence does not show there was an effort to aim at the toilet.
Prosecutors are trying to prove Pistorius intentionally fired on Steenkamp, 29, in a premeditated attempt to kill her. Pistorius and his lawyers argue he mistook her for an intruder and killed her accidentally.
Pistorius said in his statement Tuesday that he believes Steenkamp went into the bathroom when he got up to close the balcony door in his bedroom in the early hours of February 14.
Hearing noises and gripped with fear that someone had broken into his home, Pistorius said he grabbed his gun, yelled for the intruder to leave and shot through the toilet-room door before realizing the person inside might have been Steenkamp.
Roux said Wednesday that the defense team believes Steenkamp locked the door when she heard Pistorius yelling for the intruder to leave. He also said Steenkamp’s bladder was empty, suggesting she had gone to the bathroom as Pistorius claimed.
Botha agreed with the defense contention that, other than the bullet wounds, her body showed no sign of an assault or efforts to defend herself.
But prosecutors and Pistorius’ defense battled over allegations that testosterone and needles were found at the home, as well as the quality of the police investigation.
Did investigators make errors?
Amid speculation by outsiders to the case that steroids or other drugs could have somehow played a role in the shooting, Botha testified that investigators found two boxes of testosterone and needles at Pistorius’ home.
Under questioning by Roux, however, Botha said he hadn’t read the full name of the substance — which Roux said was an herbal remedy called testoconpasupium coenzyme — when investigators took the materials into evidence.
The Mayo Clinic website says coenzyme is produced by the human body and is necessary for the basic functioning of cells. Coenzyme can be taken in supplement form to boost levels of it in the body.
A quick Internet search on the full name of the substance yielded no results.
Roux said the defense forensics team found a bullet in the toilet that police had missed and noted police had failed to find out who owned ammunition found at the home or photograph it.
Roux questioned police arguments that a witness heard sounds of an argument before the shooting. The witness, Roux said, lives 600 meters (more than a third of a mile) from Pistorius’ home. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered that the witness lives 300 meters away.
The tactics used by Pistorius’ defense team caught the attention of U.S. defense attorney Alan Dershowitz.
“The thing that gives me some level of confidence that he may well be innocent is … his lawyer did something that no reasonable lawyer would ever do unless he was absolutely certain of his client’s innocence — put his story in an affidavit,” Dershowitz said.
“Because if there’s anything in that affidavit that is contradicted by one single bit of forensic evidence, the case is over.”
Defense attorneys are trying to overcome South African law, which makes it difficult for defendants accused of premeditated murder to get out on bail. The law requires evidence of “exceptional circumstances” to justify release.
The judge upgraded the charge against Pistorius to premeditated murder Tuesday, saying he could not rule out the possibility that the track star planned Steenkamp’s death. But Nair said he would consider downgrading the charge later.
In his statement Tuesday, Pistorius said he would not try to flee or influence any witnesses if he is allowed out on bail, and he said his release wouldn’t be a danger to public order.
Still, Steenkamp’s half-brother Adam doesn’t see Pistorius getting out.
“Under the circumstances, I think it would be rather strange if someone who quite clearly did something like this were to get bail,” he said. “It wouldn’t make sense to me, but I don’t know whether that would be right or wrong.”
Steenkamp’s family mourns
In the midst of the drama in the courtroom, Steenkamp’s family is still coming to terms with her tragic death.
Her cousin Kim Martin called her exceptional.
“From a young age there was something magical about her. She had this kind, nurturing soul. … She continuously gave me advice for life. … There was something really, really special about Reeva.”
Adam Steenkamp said it’s going to take some time for things to sink in, just a week after her death.
“We are all holding up very well considering the circumstances,” he said. “We’re doing OK.”
CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto contributed to this report.
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