The bail hearing in the Reeva Steenkamp murder case was postponed on Friday morning, as defendant Oscar Pistorius’s lawyers asked for more time to prepare. They were given until Tuesday morning. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the state would argue that the incident was a premeditated murder. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius will have to prove exceptional circumstances in order to avoid spending the time of his trial behind bars on Tuesday after the hearing was postponed on Friday morning. This is after the state said it wanted to deal with the bail hearing as a Schedule 6 matter (as per the Criminal Procedures Act) – which means that Pistorius will have to go to great lengths if he is to secure bail.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the state will be arguing that Reeva Steenkamp’s murder was premeditated (hence the request for a Schedule 6 matter hearing). He was ready to proceed in the bail hearing on Friday morning, but said that he could wait until Tuesday. The postponement was requested by the defendant’s legal team.
Nel’s appointment to this case shows how seriously the National Prosecuting Authority is taking it – he famously put away former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
The press was barred from broadcasting the proceedings live after magistrate Desmond Nair was convinced that Pistorius was in a “traumatised state of mind”. He was seen crying throughout the hearing on Friday.
Pistorius will not be spending the weekend in a prison cell. His lawyers said he had obtained permission from the Brooklyn police station commander to be imprisoned there rather than in a Correctional Services facility until the time of his bail hearing.
According to a Beeld story titled “Dood agter deur” (Dead behind door)”, Steenkamp was shot while she was behind a bathroom door. A neighbour claimed that a loud argument could be heard before shots were fired. The police and security guards arrived to find her shot in the head, chest, pelvis and hand.
These new reports further discount early press reports which said Pistorius mistook his girlfriend for a burglar after she came to his house to surprise him for Valentine’s Day. The SAPS has distanced itself from the earlier reports.
However, the mere fact that Pistorius was armed with a firearm and Steenkamp wasn’t, at the time of the incident, may not be enough to find him guilty of her murder. According to William Booth, a Pretoria criminal attorney, South African criminal law is very lenient when it comes to self-defence laws as the assailant has to show they feared death or injury from the victim without having to prove a balance of weapons. So even if the alleged “burglar” in is unarmed, there are still legal protections for opening fire.
“South African courts understand that these scenarios happen very quickly, usually at night. A householder cannot sit down and decide objectively exactly what should be done. You could reasonably expect any intruder to be armed and capable of doing you harm. The courts tend to accept a broad definition of self-defence,” he wrote.
On the other hand, by making a case for premeditated murder, the state is apparently confident it can prove the incident was no case of mistaken identity. DM
Photo: Oscar Pistorius is escorted by police during his court appearance in Pretoria February 15, 2013 after he was charged in court with shooting dead his girlfriend, 30-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp, in his Pretoria house. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko