|Lead Pistorius Cop to Be Ousted|
|By KEVIN DOLAK (@kdolak) , BAZI KANANI (@bazikanani) and CHRISTINA NG (@ChristinaNg27)||Feb 21, 2013, 12:56 AM|
The South African Police Service said today that Hilton Botha, the lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius murder case, will be booted from the investigation after this week's bail hearing ends.
The decision comes in light of the revelation that the detective is facing his own attempted murder charges in connection to a 2011 shooting.
"We became aware of the allegations that surfaced yesterday against the investigating officer in the Oscar Pistorius case," Police Chief Reah Piyega said at a news conference today.
Botha and other police officers allegedly fired at passengers in a vehicle two years ago.
"We were aware of the matter, it was in court, it was withdrawn and yesterday we got the decision of the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority]," she said of the prosecutor's decision to pursue the charges against Botha. "At this point in time, it is premature for anyone of us to pre-judge this case."
Medupe Simasiku, an NPA regional spokesman, told ABC News today that the charges against Botha had been withdrawn because of insufficient evidence while the investigation was ongoing. Simasiku was uncertain why the prosecutor decided to reinstate the charges at this time.
Botha will be allowed to finish the Pistorius bail application that ended its third day in court this afternoon.
Whether Pistorius is granted bail or not, Botha will not be part of the investigation team as it prepares for the Olympic sprinter's trial.
Piyega said Botha is "highly experienced" after 22 years of service and the matter "doesn't take away that experience."
Police Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo is expected to lead the investigation.
As for Pistorius' bail application, a decision is expected Friday.
"With that part over, Botha has done what he was supposed to do and now we are going into the long haul of the investigation," Piyega said.
Botha is scheduled to appear in court in May on seven counts of attempted murder in connection to the October 2011 incident in which he and two other officers allegedly fired shots at a minibus they were attempting to stop. It's unclear whether any of the passengers were injured.
Botha has been outlining details this week at the Olympic runner's bail hearing of his investigation into the Feb. 14 shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp at Pistorius' home in Pretoria, South Africa. Botha was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene, where Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, was found fatally shot three times.
Pistorius, a double-amputee who walks on carbon fiber blades, says he killed his girlfriend accidentally.
Prosecutors say they were unaware of the charges against the detective when he took the stand this week, according to The Associated Press.
"The prosecutors were not aware of those charges [against Botha]," Simasiku of the National Prosecuting Authority said. "We are calling up the information so we can get the details of the case. From there, we can take action and see if we remove him from the investigation or if he stays."
Botha muddled testimony and eventually admitted Wednesday at Pistorius' bail hearing that the suspect's account of the Valentine's Day shooting did not contradict the police's version of events.
A spokesman for the NPA admitted today that charges pending against Botha were not helpful for the credibility of the prosecution's case, but that the case would hinge on forensic evidence, not the testimony of a police officer.
Pistorius has argued in court that he was closing his balcony doors when he heard a noise from the bathroom. Fearing an intruder, and without his prosthetic legs on, he grabbed a gun from under his bed and fired through the closed bathroom door, he told the court.
But prosecutors say that's implausible, that the gun's holster was found under the side of the bed where Steenkamp slept, and that Pistorius would have seen she wasn't there. Prosecutors also say the angle at which the shots were fired shows Pistorius was already wearing his prosthetics when he fired.
Pistorius' family and running coach continue to stand by him.
In a statement released today, Pistorius' coach Ampie Louw said he was shocked by the developments, but still looking forward to getting Pistorius "back on the track."
"I am still in shock following the heart-breaking events that occurred last week and my thoughts and prayers are with both of the families involved," Louw said. "I had spent some time with Reeva recently after being introduced to her by Oscar, giving her training tips and advice and she would often be at the track with me whilst Oscar was training."
Louw said he found Steenkamp "delightful" and "friendly," like Pistorius, and said he thought the two were happy together. He has been Pistorius' coach for nine years.
"In my 35 years of coaching, never have I worked with an athlete who has such an incredible work ethic and treats every training session very seriously and has the focus, the commitment and the talent that every coach dreams of," he said. "I pray that we can all, in time, come through this challenging situation following the accident and I am looking forward to the day I can get my boy back on the track."
Pistorius' family said they "fully respect" the bail hearing process and are patiently waiting for Friday's decision.
"We are strong and supportive as a family, for Oscar, but we understand that this is in the best interest for all," his uncle Arnold Pistorius said in a statement today.
"This is a unique, emotional and difficult time for us all," he said. "Our hearts and thoughts are with the family of Reeva Steenkamp during their time of bereavement".
Meanwhile, Steenkamp's cousin told CNN that she wants to believe Pistorius' story.
"That is what in my heart, I hope and wish is the truth, because I would not like to think my cousin suffered," Kim Martin, Steenkamp's cousin, told CNN's Piers Morgan. "I would not like to think that she was scared."
Pistorius has been dropped by at least two of his sponsors, Nike and Thierry Mugler.
ABC News' Sifiso Khanyile contributed to this report.