Oscar’s team punches holes in State’s case
By Botho Molosankwe, Kristen Van Schie and Omphitlhetse Mooki
Johannesburg - By midday, Oscar Pistorius’s bid for freedom looked all over. Police detective Hilton Botha had painted a damning picture of a man injecting testosterone, and shooting his girlfriend as she sought refuge behind a locked bathroom door.
Pistorius, State prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, was a flight risk with a house in Italy, secret foreign bank accounts and a number of cellphones that had never been used.
But by Wednesday afternoon, advocate Barry Roux SC had punched holes in Botha’s testimony, forcing the veteran warrant officer to backtrack and concede that his version might not have been as open and shut as he would have liked.
The bail hearing, which has almost become a trial-within-a-trial, ended inconclusively on Wednesday.
All parties were due back on Thursday to present closing arguments to chief magistrate Desmond Nair.
Taking the stand at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, Botha described Pistorius’s actions on the night his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was killed as not consistent with what a reasonable man would do under those circumstances.
Pistorius faces a charge of premeditated murder.
“I find it difficult to believe that when you hear a noise in your house, you don’t go find your girlfriend to make sure she’s safe and that you decide to face something without knowing where she is,” Botha said.
In his affidavit, read out by Roux on Tuesday, Pistorius alleged he had heard a noise around 3am while bringing a fan in from the balcony of his bedroom. He had then grabbed his gun before going to the bathroom and fired shots at the toilet door. He said he did not know Steenkamp was not in bed as he was too scared to turn on the lights.
Without his prosthetic legs on, Pistorius said, he had felt vulnerable.
“We now have a vulnerable person without his legs, a harmful person in the house, a harmless girlfriend and he wants to protect himself and his girlfriend,” said Roux.
But Botha questioned this.
“You say he was scared, yet he walked towards danger?” the police officer asked.
It was this seesawing between the State and Pistorius’s defence that characterised much of the second day of the athlete’s bail application.
Of particular interest were arguments around reasons why Steenkamp had locked herself in a bathroom at 3am. The defence’s version is that the model locked herself in upon hearing Pistorius shouting that there was an intruder in the house. But the State implied the couple had fought, forcing Steenkamp to lock herself in for safety.
“What do you think she should do? Run into the house where the danger is or safeguard herself in the toilet? Would you lock yourself in the toilet if you were a woman?” asked Roux.
Botha just nodded.
But when re-examined by Nel, Botha said he found it strange that Steenkamp would lock herself up.
“If she was in the toilet and heard her boyfriend shouting, do you think she would have answered?” Nel wondered. In the gallery, the family scoffed at the question, but Botha said “yes”.
In his affidavit, Pistorius said he had been a victim of violence and burglaries. He had also received death threats, prompting him to sleep with a gun under his bed, despite living in a security complex.
But the State disputed his theory of his being a vulnerable crime victim, with Botha saying “he was never a complainant in the police system”.
Nel also questioned how a man supposedly so paranoid of crime could sleep with a sliding door left open less than 2 metres from his bed.
The alleged burglar had also ignored the open sliding door and had gone to the side with a small bathroom window and two dogs.
“Even if you are too small to get through that small window, you’ll have trouble climbing in,” Nel said.
Pistorius has not given evidence to indicate whether the dogs had barked. Neither did a statement by a neighbour who told the police he had heard a woman’s screams and gunshots.
“We got statements from someone who said they saw that lights were on, and went to bed as they didn’t see anything wrong… and thought they had been dreaming. He then heard a woman screaming… then two or three more shots,” said Botha.
This also appeared to cast doubt on Pistorius’s version that when he grabbed his gun, he was not aware his girlfriend was not in bed as it was dark.
But Roux responded sarcastically: “We have a witness who for the whole hour couldn’t sleep… who heard talking and screaming. Where does this person live?”
Botha responded “about 600 metres” away, to rousing laughter.
The police said they had found Steenkamp’s overnight bag and ladies’ slippers on the left side of the bed, and it was on that side that the holster for the gun was also found.
This led the State to question how Pistorius could not have seen his girlfriend when he grabbed the gun.
But the defence, after conceding that Pistorius usually slept on the right side of the bed, said that on that particular night he slept on the left side as he had a shoulder injury.
Inside the bedroom, there were needles and bottles of what police believed to have been testosterone. But Roux grilled Botha on this, saying the stuff confiscated was herbal medication Pistorius was taking, not a banned substance.
Roux also tore apart Botha’s evidence that Pistorius should be denied bail as he had a property in Italy and an offshore account, making him a flight risk.
He stuck to his statement even when Nair had asked: “The accused, using a prosthesis to get around, familiar as he is, will flee the country after getting bail?”
With the kind of money Pistorius has, it was possible for him to get anywhere, responded Botha.
But he failed to substantiate his claims that Pistorius had a house in Italy when Roux confirmed the opposite, only saying: “That’s what I was told.”
Case for bail to be granted
* There is no substance to say there was a deliberate firing of shots at the toilet.
* Offshore account is actually a corporate account and Pistorius can’t simply withdraw money from it.
* He’s an internationally acclaimed athlete and easily recognisable.
State’s reasons against
* He could be a flight risk.
* He has offshore accounts and a house in Italy, and “if you have the kind of financing he has, it is possible to get anywhere”.
* If found guilty, he faces 15 years to life imprisonment.
* If he skipped the country, it would be difficult to extradite him to South Africa.