‘BLADE RUNNER’ OSCAR Pistorius, facing trial for having shot dead his girlfriend, hopes to secure bail today as prosecutors struggled to regain lost ground after the replacement of the lead officer in the investigation.
South Africa’s police commissioner Riah Phiyega announced that lead officer Hilton Botha was being replaced after local media revealed he faced seven attempted murder charges for having opened fire on a minibus in 2009.
Charges against Botha, initially brought in 2009 and later withdrawn, had now been reinstated, said police spokesman Neville Malila. They themselves had only been informed on Wednesday, he added.
The development further embarrassed the prosecution, which has seen its evidence repeatedly picked apart during the bail hearing for Pistorius over the Valentine’s Day killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29.
Prosecutors do not accept the sprinter’s explanation that he accidentally shot dead the model after mistaking her for a burglar. They have charged him with “premeditated murder” because of relationship problems.
But as the bail hearings enter a fourth day today, some lawyers following the case say the state has failed to present a strong enough case to keep Pistorius behind bars.
Botha’s removal from the case comes a day after Pistorius’ defence team went after him in the witness box.
Summing up his case yesterday, defence lawyer Barry Roux told the court: “The poor quality of the evidence of investigating officer Botha further exposed … the disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.”
Roux had earlier cast doubt on key prosecution witness evidence suggesting the couple, who had been dating since late last year, had had an argument before the shooting.
Prosecutors have also backtracked on allegations that police had found testosterone and needles in a dresser in Pistorius’s bedroom. They later said the substance was unknown.
Steenkamp was found by medics in the early hours of Thursday last week at Pistorius’s luxury Pretoria home covered in bloodied towels, with bullet wounds to her head, elbow and hip. She died at the scene.
In a statement read out in court earlier this week Pistorius said that he had fired at the door of the bathroom as he was “filled with horrible fear” that someone had sneaked in through an open window in the dead of night.
The 26-year-old athlete has previously said he kept a gun in his bedroom because of fears of violent burglary.
The Olympian and Paralympian sprinter, who has been in police custody for over a week, could face months or perhaps years in pre-trial detention if he does not win bail.
More as we get it.