February 23, 2013

Oscar Pistorius gets bail as murder trial looms

But the Chief Magistrate, who agreed to bail with harsh restrictions, expressed his own doubts about Pistorius' story.

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA and JON GAMBRELL The Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa - Oscar Pistorius walked out of court Friday after a South African magistrate released him on bail, capping four days of often startling testimony that foreshadowed a dramatic trial in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend.

click image to enlarge

Photographers take photos of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius as he stands in the dock during his bail hearing at the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. The fourth and likely final day of Oscar Pistorius' bail hearing opened on Friday, with the magistrate then to rule if the double-amputee athlete can be freed before trial or if he has to remain in custody over the shooting death of his girlfriend. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

But as he was driven away, questions continued to hound the double-amputee Olympian about what actually happened the night he gunned down Reeva Steenkamp inside a locked bathroom in his home.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder, and even Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair expressed doubts about his story that he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder and fired out of fear.

"Why would (Pistorius) venture further into danger" by going into the bathroom at all, Nair asked.

Cries of "Yes!" went up from Pistorius' supporters when Nair announced his decision to a packed courtroom after a nearly two-hour explanation of the ruling.

Nair set bail at $113,000, with $11,300 in cash up front and proof that the rest is available. The 26-year-old track star was also ordered to hand over his passports, turn in any guns he owns and keep away from his upscale home in a gated community in Pretoria, which is now a crime scene.

He cannot leave the district of Pretoria without his probation officer's permission and is not allowed to consume drugs or alcohol, the magistrate said. His next court appearance was set for June 4.

Earlier, Pistorius alternately wept and appeared solemn and composed, especially as Nair criticized police procedures in the case and as a judgment in the track star's favor appeared imminent. He showed no reaction as he was granted bail.

Pistorius left the courthouse in a silver Land Rover just over an hour after the bail conditions were set. The vehicle, tailed by motorcycles carrying television cameramen, later pulled into the home of Pistorius' uncle.

"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," said Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius.

"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," Arnold Pistorius said.

Dozens of journalists and international and local television crews had converged on the red-brick courthouse to hear the decision -- a sign of the global fascination with a case involving a once-inspirational athlete and his beautiful girlfriend, a law school graduate and budding reality TV show contestant.

Nair said Pistorius' sworn statement, an unusual written account of what happened during the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 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 he shot Steenkamp accidentally, believing she was an intruder in his house. He described "a sense of terror rushing over" him and feeling vulnerable because he stood only on his stumps before opening fire.

Prosecutors say he intended to kill Steenkamp as she cowered in fear behind the locked bathroom door after a loud argument between the two.

Yet despite poking holes in Pistorius' version of events and bringing up incidents they say highlight his temper, the state's case started to unravel during testimony by the lead investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha.

Botha, who faces seven charges of attempted murder in an unrelated incident, was removed from the case Thursday. His replacement, the nation's top detective, Vinesh Moonoo, stopped by the hearing briefly Friday.

(Continued on page 2)

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