Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Pistorius detective facing attempted murder charges

Reuters, PRETORIA

The lead detective in the Oscar Pistorius murder case is himself facing attempted murder charges for firing on a minibus full of passengers, South African police said yesterday as prosecutors argued in court to deny the athlete bail.

Hilton Botha, who took the stand against Pistorius at the Paralympic and Olympic track star’s bail hearing earlier this week, is due to appear before a judge in May over the 2011 shooting, police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said.

“Botha and two other policemen allegedly tried to stop a minibus taxi with seven people. They fired shots,” Malila said.

It was unclear why the charges were reinstated against Botha, or how the latest twist in Pistorius’ sensational four-day bail hearing will affect the athlete’s chances of securing release from custody pending his trial.

At the time of the taxi bus shooting, Botha — a detective with 24 years on the force — was chasing a man accused of murdering a woman and disposing of her dismembered body down a drain, local media said.

The charges against him were provisionally withdrawn, but reinstated on Feb. 4 — 10 days before the shooting of 29-year-old model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in a locked toilet at Pistorius’ Pretoria home, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

“The decision to reinstate was taken on Feb. 4, way before the issue of Pistorius came to light or the murder of Reeva was committed,” NPA spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. “It’s completely unrelated to this trial.”

Malila said now that the court had decided to charge Botha, there would be an internal disciplinary investigation which would decide whether to keep him on the case.

“At this stage there are no plans to take him off the Pistorius case,” he said.

Sportswear giant Nike yesterday froze its contract with Pistorius, saying the athelete should be “afforded due process.”

The revelation about Botha capped a troubling 24 hours for South Africa’s prosecution service.

Under cross-examination at the bail hearing on Wednesday, the lead detective was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius’ house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete’s home.

Grilled by lead defense lawyer Barry Roux, he also had to concede that Pistorius’ version of events — that he fired into the toilet door in a blind panic thinking an intruder was lurking behind it — was plausible.

The bail hearing resumed yesterday with prosecutors immediately admitting they had only just found out about the charges hanging over Botha.

Pressing home the defense’s advantage to argue for Pistorius’s release, Roux said: “The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.”

The 26-year-old runner denies murder and was more composed in court after repeatedly breaking down in previous hearings.

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