Life, etc

The State vs Pistorius: Not quite a watertight case

By Khadija Patel 20 February 2013

Day two of the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing on Wednesday had all the makings of a television drama. The prosecution started off by calling the investigating officer Hilton Botha to the stand. Through his testimony, the prosecution appeared to have, as it has been described in the press, "a watertight case". But then came Barry Roux's cross-examination. By KHADIJA PATEL.

With a flair for the dramatic, Nel gently led investigating officer Hilton Botha into revealing what exactly the police had found in the case against Oscar Pistorius which made them believe Pistorius should not be awarded bail while he awaits trial on charges of murdering his girlfriend, the 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp.

Botha clearly voiced his opposition to Pistorius being awarded bail, saying: “I think he’s a flight risk.”

He told the court he believed Pistorius had a home in Italy and several offshore accounts. These were interests outside of South Africa that, Botha said, would make fleeing South Africa attractive to someone facing the possibility of 15 years to life in prison.

He said, Pistorius’s brother Carl and his lawyer had engaged the services of a locksmith to force open a safe in Pistorius’s kitchen. That safe, Botha alleged, contained details of offshore accounts in Pistorius’s name. “[The lawyer and brother] said they were looking for documents and a memory stick with details of offshore accounts,” he said.

Botha sought to emphasise the severity of the crime Pistorius has been charged with. “It is a very serious crime,” he said gravely.

Botha, who said Steenkamp was already pronounced dead by the time he arrived at Pistorius’s home in Pretoria East, said police had also found illegal ammunition in the master bedroom of the house.

And as Botha spoke, Pistorius wept. His head bowed, he seemed to be resigned to his fate. His family and friends in the gallery were sombre, their shoulders slumped as they listened to the evidence that had so far been gathered against him.

From Botha’s testimony, police appeared to be building a case against Pistorius that was not restricted to the fatal shooting of Steenkamp. They sought to paint Pistorius as a man capable of violence. The recent media reports of Pistorius’s involvement in a mêlée with former Kaizer Chiefs footballer Mark Batchelor were mentioned. So too, the gun that had gone off in Tasha’s restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, while Pistorius dined with friends.

The police sought to paint Pistorius as someone who did not shy away from violent confrontations.

Significantly, Botha emphasised that Pistorius was well aware of the degree of public scrutiny on him. He alleged that Pistorius had arranged for a friend to “to take the rap” for him in a case of assault.

This then, was a far cry from the Pistorius South Africans have grown to love – the quintessential South African champion who defied disability to compete with the best in the world.

But Botha and Nel were not yet done.

Botha told the court that police had found ammunition in the bedroom safe of Pistorius’s home – ammunition for a weapon which Pistorius had no license.

And the 0.38 calibre ammunition was not the only item of interest the police claimed to have found. Botha said police had found steroids like testosterone, as well as syringes in the Pistorius home.

At this point, having cast a cloud of doubt over Pistorius’s integrity, Botha’s insistence that Pistorius knew who was in the bathroom when he fired his gun appeared plausible.

He claimed the trajectory of the bullets proved that Pistorius had positioned himself and pointed his gun with the specific intention of aiming at the toilet. Botha claimed he would not have hit the toilet if he had simply stood in front of the bathroom door and shot straight ahead.

This, then was the state’s preliminary case for a charge of premeditated murder against Oscar Pistorius.

All this was bolstered by Botha’s claim that a neighbour of Pistorius had sworn to police that she had heard people arguing for at least an hour before the shooting occurred.

Every one of these points, the entire basis of the state’s case against Oscar Pistorius, would be fiercely contested by advocate Barry Roux, counsel for Pistorius.

Roux asked Botha whether Steenkamp would have locked herself in the bathroom, away from danger, had she heard Pistorius scream while she was in the bathroom.

“That is true,” said Botha.

And that was only the beginning of a relentless juggernaut.

Botha was left stammering and struggling for answers to Botha’s unyielding cross-examination.

Roux was successful in not only showing the negligence of police in their investigation on the scene, but also afterwards, in their investigation of the circumstances of the shooting. He showed that the police were too ready to jump to conclusions to make their case against Pistorius.

The gallery gasped in dismay when Botha admitted that the neighbour who had attested to hearing people arguing on the night of the shooting actually lived 600m away from Pistorius.

The state’s case had unravelled.

On Thursday, both sides will make their final arguments, for and against Pistorius receiving bail. Pistorius will spend another night in police custody but as he left the court on Wednesday, he looked a different man to the one who entered in the morning. He appeared relieved, almost smiling as police led him away to the Brooklyn police station. DM

Photo by Reuters


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