|Pistorius Granted Bail in Murder Case|
|By KEVIN DOLAK (@kdolak) and BAZI KANANI (@bazikanani)||Feb 22, 2013, 2:59 AM|
Oscar Pistorius was granted bail today in a South African court, meaning he can be released from jail for the six to eight months before his trial for the allegedly premeditated killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Magistrate Desmond Nair, in reading his lengthy decision, said, "The issue before me is whether this accused, being who is and the assets he has [here], would seek to duck and dive all over the world." His conclusion: "I cannot find that he is a flight risk."
Nair said, "The accused has made a case to be released on bail."
The judge also said he had to weigh whether Pistorius would be a danger to others. He noted that Pistorius has been accused of using foul language against people in arguments and once threatened to break someone's legs, but he said that was different from someone with an arrest record of violence.
"I appreciate that a person is dead, but I don't think that is enough," he said.
Nair also said he could not be influenced by the public's "shock and outrage" if Pistorius is released.
A member of Pistorius' defense team told ABC News, "he is going to be released today."
Despite the ruling, prosecutors displayed confidence, with one of them emerging from the courthouse today to say, "We still believe we have the evidence to convict Oscar Pistorius."
The court set bail at about $113,000 (1 million rand) and June 4 as the date for Pistorius' next court appearance.
The other bail conditions are: Pistorius cannot leave the country; he must hand over his passports; he cannot return to his home as long as it's an active crime scene; he needs permission to leave the Pretoria area; he must visit a police station on a daily basis and be available to a probation officer at all times via cellphone; he is not allowed any communication with prosecution witnesses; he cannot drink alcohol; and he must relinquish his firearms.
"Do you understand?" the magistrate asked him.
"Yes, sir," Pistorius replied.
Speaking for the family, Arnold Pistorius, the Olympian's uncle, said, "Although we are obviously relieved that Oscar has been granted bail, this is still a very sad time for the family of Reeva and for us.
"We are grateful that the Magistrate recognized the validity and strength of our application. As the family, we are convinced that Oscar's version of what happened on that terrible night will prove to be true."
The judge's ruling came on the fourth and final day of the bail hearing for Pistorius, the Olympian accused of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.
Pistorius, who gained global acclaim for racing at the 2012 London Olympics, shot his model-girlfriend through a closed bathroom. He says he killed Reeva Steenkamp accidentally, but prosecutors alleged that he took a moment to put on his prosthetic legs, indicating that he thought out and planned to kill Steenkamp when he shot her three times through the bathroom door.
Pistorius sobbed today in court. Barry Roux, his defense attorney, said the prosecution misinterpreted the assigning of intent, meaning that the runner's intent to shoot at a supposed intruder in his home cannot be transferred to someone else who was shot -- in this case, Steenkamp.
"He did not want to kill Reeva," Roux told the court.
When Magistrate Nair, who overheard the bail hearing, asked Roux what the charges should be if Pistorius intended to kill an intruder, the defense attorney responded that he should be charged with culpable homicide.
Culpable homicide is defined in South Africa as "the unlawful negligent killing of a human being."
Roux also made light of the prosecution's argument that Pistorius is a flight risk, saying that every time the double-amputee goes through airport security, it causes a commotion. He said that Pistorius' legs need constant maintenance and he needs medical attention for his stumps.
The prosecution argued today that the onus was on Pistorius to provide his version of events, and his version was improbable.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel also spoke of Pistorius' fame and his disability, even relating him to Wikipedia founder Julian Assange, who is now confined to Ecuador's London Embassy, where he has been granted political asylum. "[Assange's] facial features are as well known as Mr. Pistorius' prostheses," Nel said.
Nel argued that Pistorius' prostheses do not set him apart, stating that it's no different to any other feature, and the court cannot be seen to treat people with disabilities accused of a crime, or famous people accused of crime, any differently.
Pistorius has said that in the early hours of Feb. 14 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.
Meanwhile, Lt. General Vinesh Moonoo was named Thursday the new chief investigator to the murder case after the surprise revelation that the former head detective and the prosecution's key witness, Hilton Botha, was charged with seven counts of attempted murder in connection to a 2011 shooting. The charges against Botha amount to an significant oversight by the state, which could sway the court's opinion.
Prosecutors maintain that Pistorius was out to kill on the night of Valentine's Day, prompting him to fire four shots into the locked bathroom door that Steenkamp was behind.
Friends of the couple say they were happy, and there is no reason why Pistorius would intentionally hurt Steenkamp.
"If Oscar was to ask her to get married, she would have said yes," friend Kevin Lerena said. "That's how happy and joyful their relationship was."
Ampie Louw, Pistorius' trainer, spoke with reporters outside the courthouse today before the bail decision, saying that he hopes Pistorius gets bail and can start training again, but that he won't push it.
"I'm not the legal side of it. But I'm ready," he said. "We can start training Monday if he's out."