Star South African amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius was awarded bail yesterday after being accused of murdering his girlfriend.
The decision by Magistrate Desmond Nair drew cheers from Pistorius’ family and supporters at the Pretoria magistrate’s court, although the athlete appeared unmoved as the decision was read out.
The decision followed a week of dramatic testimony about how the athlete shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury home near Pretoria in the early hours of Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Nair at first set bail at 250,000 rand (US$28,168), but then raised the amount to 1 million rand in cash and guarantees. Pistorius was ordered to surrender his passport, to avoid his home and witnesses, and to report to his local police station twice a week.
The trial was postponed until June 4.
Prosecutors said Pistorius, 26, committed premeditated murder when he fired four shots into a locked bathroom door, hitting his girlfriend cowering on the other side. Steenkamp, 29, suffered gunshot wounds to her head, hip and arm. Pistorius’ defense team argued the killing was a tragic mistake, saying the athlete had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder.
However, the star sprinter’s shoulders were shaking as Nair summarized the accused’s statement in a hushed courtroom.
Nair had to pause briefly, asking Pistorius: “Are you OK there?”
Pistorius later regained his composure.
Top prosecutor Gerrie Nel has opposed bail, saying Pistorius has the money, means and motive to flee his native South Africa.
“He hasn’t said so, but he must think that conviction is likely. He must realize that a long term of imprisonment is almost guaranteed,” he told the court.
Prosecutors say Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder.
If found guilty he faces a possible life sentence.
Pistorius denies the charge, saying that he shot 29-year-old Steenkamp repeatedly through a locked bathroom door in the dead of night by accident, having mistaken her for a burglar.
Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games last year in London.
Just hours before the magistrate’s decision, Pistorius’ top lawyer admitted the star sprinter could be convicted on charges of homicide.
The “Blade Runner’s” top defense lawyer denied he is guilty of premeditated murder, but indicated a lesser charge was likely.
“He is expected to be convicted of culpable homicide,” chief defense Barry Roux told the court, ahead of the ruling on bail.
That charge, which entails negligence rather than murderous intent, could carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, or in some instances release.
In a stunning development on Thursday, South African police unceremoniously ditched the lead detective on the case, Hilton Botha, after he bumbled through testimony and it emerged that he himself was facing seven attempted murder charges for having opened fire on a minibus in 2011.
Pistorius has often cut a sorry figure sitting alone in the dock, having lost weight and showing several grey hairs, and often breaking into sobs.