Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee track star, was released on bail of 1 million rand ($113,000) before his trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius, 26, was allowed yesterday to leave the Brooklyn police station in Pretoria where he’d been held since the Feb. 14 shooting. Magistrate Desmond Nair told the athlete to pay 100,000 rand in cash and surrender his passports and firearms. Pistorius must report to the police station every Monday and Friday. His next court appearance is June 4.
“We are acutely aware of the fact that this is only the beginning of a long road to prove that, as we know, Oscar never intended to harm Reeva, let alone cause her death,” Arnold Pistorius, the athlete’s uncle, said in a statement e-mailed today. “We realise that the law must run its course, and we would not have it any other way.”
During the four-day hearing, the prosecution disputed the athlete’s evidence that he thought Steenkamp, 29, was a burglar when he shot her in a locked bathroom at his Pretoria home. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the couple had been arguing before the shooting and the alleged murder was premeditated, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison if Pistorius is convicted.
Pistorius’s family yelled out “yes” in unison when Nair granted bail after two hours of summarizing the arguments made at the hearing. The athlete, known as “Blade Runner” because of his prosthetic running blades, showed little emotion before being removed from the court yesterday. His brother, Carl, led about 25 family members in prayer in a circle in the front row of the courtroom gallery after bail was granted.
Nair said he didn’t think Pistorius is a flight risk and the state didn’t provide enough proof in arguing he had a propensity to violence and would attempt to influence witnesses.
“I come to the conclusion the accused has made a case to be released on bail,” he said.
The judge said Hilton Botha, the lead police investigator in the case, made a series of errors, including possibly contaminating the crime scene, not checking for other mobile phones owned by Pistorius and misidentifying substances found at his home as testosterone.
Still, this “doesn’t mean the state’s case isn’t strong,” Nair said.
Botha was removed from the case two days ago after prosecutors said they’ve reinstated attempted-murder charges against him for an incident in 2011 when he allegedly shot at a minibus taxi. The police appointed their top detective, Vinesh Moonoo, to replace Botha on the Pistorius case.
Nair also said he had “difficulties” with some of the defense’s account. He said he found it hard to understand why Pistorius didn’t try to find out where his girlfriend was when he believed there was an intruder in the house, and why he didn’t call out to the person behind the closed bathroom door before shooting.
Oscar Pistorius must “suffer” if he’s not telling the truth about how Reeva died, Barry Steenkamp, her father, said in an interview published today in the Johannesburg-based newspaper Beeld.
“Pistorius will have to live with his conscience if he allows his legal team to lie on his behalf,” he said in the interview.
The state is still “confident” of its case and the granting of bail doesn’t mean an acquittal, Medupe Simasiku, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told reporters at the court yesterday.
Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old, won six Paralympic gold medals. He became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games in London last year and was included on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most-influential people.
Since the shooting, sponsors such as Nike Inc., the world’s largest sporting-goods company, Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Clarins SA’s Thierry Mugler perfume brand have distanced themselves from Pistorius.