By Jon Herskovitz/Reuters
Oscar Pistorius in court
PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius was granted bail Friday pending his trial for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Olympic and Paralympic star Pistorius, dubbed the “Blade Runner,” maintains he did not realize Steenkamp was in the locked bathroom of his home in a suburb of Pretoria, South Africa, and fired through the door in a panic over a possible prowler early on Valentine’s Day.
However, prosecutors say the 26-year-old committed the “premeditated murder” of Steenkamp, 29, a model and trained lawyer, who was staying overnight at his house.
On the fourth day of his bail hearing Friday, Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair told the court that he had “come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be granted bail.”
There was a cry of “yes” from the public gallery after his decision, and his relatives embraced, cried and prayed.
In contrast to the joy of his relatives, Pistorius looked upset.
Nair spoke for more than 90 minutes prior to announcing his decision, summarizing the testimony given to the four-day hearing, citing previous cases and the relevant laws.
He said he had “difficulty” with several aspects of Pistorius’ account of what happened, talking of a number of “improbabilities.”
“I have difficulty in appreciating why the accused did not ascertain the whereabouts of his girlfriend,” Nair said. He said he also struggled to understand “why the accused would not seek to ascertain who was in the toilet” before opening fire.
‘Not a flight risk’
But he said he had concluded that Pistorius was “not a flight risk” and said there was no evidence before him that the athlete might interfere with state witnesses. He also said he did not have evidence to suggest Pistorius was “not of a stable mind.”
Nair also criticized Warrant Officer Hilton Botha – a police officer pulled from the case because he is facing attempted murder charges — for making “several errors” during his testimony to the bail hearing.
He also said Botha had “blundered” when he claimed to have found testosterone in Pistorius’ room and had not “spent as much time as he ought to have if he wanted to show the accused has a propensity to violence.”
Nair set bail at a million rand (about $112,000). Pistorius, who was to be freed on payment of the money, was ordered to report to a police station twice a week, among a number of bail conditions.
Pistorius was also ordered to stay away from witnesses, surrender his passports, hand over his firearms and not drink alcohol. The case was then adjourned until June 4.
The athlete left the court at about 5:45 p.m. local time.
Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the prosecution, said that they respected the court’s decision.
“We would like to assure everyone that we’re still confident of this case,” he said. “We believe that we will make it through during the trial.”
Before the bail decision, prosecutor Gerrie Nel had told the court that “one must stretch” to believe Pistorius’ account of what happened on the night of the shooting.
And Nel questioned why Steenkamp would have stayed silent and not alerted Pistorius that she was in the bathroom.
“Why would she not have shouted, ‘Where are you (Oscar)? What’s going on?’” Nel said. “She did not say a word. She did not scream. She did nothing! I think that’s improbable. … It’s not true!”
In a statement read to the court on Tuesday, Pistorius described waking up and and going to his bedroom balcony to bring a fan inside and close the sliding glass doors and blinds. After hearing a noise in the bathroom, the double-amputee said he felt “a sense of terror” and feared a prowler was in the house.
Pistorius’ account added: “I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted at Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes on the bathroom entrance. Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light. Reeva was not responding.
“When I reached the bed, I realized that Reeva was not in bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet.”
Defense lawyer Barry Roux told the court before the decision on bail that Pistorius should at most be charged with culpable homicide, which is the unlawful, negligent killing of someone under South African law.
He said “intent” to possibly kill a burglar could not be transferred to become intent to kill Steenkamp.
Roux said Pistorius would not be able to flee the country unnoticed. If he went through security at an airport, “the system would react.”
The lawyer added that Pistorius would not skip bail, saying that his prosthetics needed adjustment every month and that he also required medication for his stomach.
The arrest of Pistorius stunned millions who watched in awe last year as the sprinter reached the semi-final of the 400 meters at the London 2012 Olympics.
In South Africa, Pistorius was seen as a rare hero who commanded respect from both blacks and whites, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.
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