Detective in Pistorius Case Faces Prior Charges
Published: February 21, 2013
PRETORIA, South Africa — In a remarkable twist in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee track star accused of murdering his girlfriend, the South African police said on Thursday that the officer leading the investigation against the athlete is himself facing seven criminal charges of attempted murder.
Under cross-examination on Wednesday, the detective was forced to concede that he could not rule out Mr. Pistorius’s own version of events based on the existing evidence, apparently undermining the prosecution’s account.
“The poor quality of evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case,” said defense lawyer Barry Roux.
When the bail hearing resumed on Thursday — Mr. Pistorius’s fourth court appearance since the killing on Feb. 14 — the chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, began by acknowledging the charges against Mr. Botha, but said prosecutors did not know the case had been reinstated by the time Mr. Botha testified against Mr. Pistorius on Wednesday.
Mr. Botha was not present when the Pistorius bail hearings resumed Thursday, and the court briefly adjourned while officers went to find him.
While the prosecution has accused Mr. Pistorius, 26, of the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, a week ago, the track star himself said he opened fire thinking there was an intruder in his home in a gated community and had no intention of killing her.
The case has continued to take a toll on his global reputation as an emblem of athletic prowess and of triumph over adversity. On Thursday, the Nike company became the latest corporate sponsor to suspend ties with him. “We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” the company said in astatement on its Web site.
In Pretoria, in a development that seemed as bewildering as it was sensational on Thursday, Police Brig. Neville Malila said that Mr. Botha is himself set to appear in court in May facing attempted murder charges relating to an incident in October 2011, when Mr. Botha and two other police officers were accused of firing at a minivan carrying seven people.
“Botha and two other policemen allegedly tried to stop a minibus taxi with seven people. They fired shots,” Brigadier Malila said.
While the charges were initially dropped, “we were informed yesterday that the charges will be reinstated,” he said. “At this stage, there are no plans to take him off the Pistorius case.”
South African news reports said the 2011 shooting happened when the officers were pursuing a man accused of murdering and dismembering a woman before putting the body parts into a drain.
Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said “the decision to reinstate was taken on Feb. 4, way before the issue of Pistorius” or the shooting death of Ms. Steenkamp “came to light.”
“It’s completely unrelated to this trial,” the spokesman said.
Mr. Botha was quoted in South African news reports as denying claims that he was drunk during the alleged shooting. He said he and other officers had aimed at the wheels of the minivan without causing injuries and he was convinced that the case had been withdrawn.
Calling the timing “totally weird,” Bulewa Makeke, a spokeswoman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said Mr. Botha should be replaced but the final decision lay with the police, not the prosecutors.
“Is he going to be dropped from the case? I don’t know. I think the right thing would be for him to be dropped,” Ms. Makeke said outside Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.
Mr. Pistorius returned to court on Thursday for further arguments about whether he should be granted bail in a case that has riveted South Africa and fascinated a wider audience, reflecting Mr. Pistorius’s status as one of the world’s most renowned athletes, whose distinctive carbon-fiber running blades inspired the nickname Blade Runner.
On Wednesday, what was supposed to be a simple bail hearing took on the proportions of a full-blown trial, with sharp questions from the presiding magistrate, Desmond Nair, and a withering cross-examination that left Detective Botha grasping for answers that did not contradict his earlier testimony.
Initially, Detective Botha explained how preliminary ballistic evidence supported the prosecution’s assertion that Mr. Pistorius had been wearing prosthetic legs when he shot at a locked bathroom door early on Feb. 14. Ms. Steenkamp, a model and law school graduate, was hiding behind it at the time.
Mr. Pistorius said in an affidavit read to the court on Tuesday that he had hobbled over from his bed on his stumps and had felt extremely vulnerable to a possible intruder as a result.
But when questioned by Mr. Roux, Mr. Pistorius’s lawyer, Detective Botha was forced to acknowledge sloppy police work, and he eventually conceded that he could not rule out Mr. Pistorius’s version of events based on the existing evidence. Mr. Roux accused the prosecution of selectively taking “every piece of evidence” and trying “to extract the most possibly negative connotation and present it to the court.”
Lydia Polgreen reported from Pretoria, South Africa, and Alan Cowell from London.