Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court this week. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court in February last year. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

MURDER accused Oscar Pistorius has been granted R1m bail on Friday in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, after a week-long bid to be released from custody.

He faces a charge of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who died in a shooting in his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last week. He has denied deliberately shooting her and said he thought there was a burglar in the house when he fired shots at the bathroom door, killing her.

He would not return to his home at Silver Woods estate in Pretoria, where the shooting occurred. Mr Pistorius was told not leave the country and was expected to hand over his travel documents to the investigating officer.

The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court agreed he could pay R100,000 first and the rest of the bail amount by March 1.

The state had failed to prove that Mr Pistorius was a flight risk, magistrate Desmond Nair said in his ruling.

"I cannot find that it has been established that the accused is a flight risk," he said.

Mr Nair also said there was no evidence before him that Mr Pistorius would interfere with state witnesses, and that a Warrant Officer Hilton Botha — the investigating officer who was this week removed from the case — had not shown that Mr Pistorius had a propensity to commit violence.

Mr Pistorius sat in court with his jaw clenched and crying at times as Mr Nair provided a detailed, two-hour summary of the evidence and affidavits presented to him by the state and the defence over the past four days.

"He is mortified at the loss of Ms Steenkamp as well as the pain and suffering of her family," Mr Nair said, adding that Mr Pistorius stood by his version of events and believed a trial would show he did not mean to murder Steenkamp.

However, Mr Nair said: “I have difficulty in appreciating why the accused did not ascertain the whereabouts of his girlfriend when he got out of the bed.”

Other “problems” the magistrate had with Mr Pistorius’s version of how Steenkamp was shot through the bathroom included why he had not first checked who was in the toilet, and why he would have further ventured into danger in the toilet. “To my mind, what if he came out and the intruder was waiting for him?” asked Mr Nair.

The magistrate read out summaries of evidence from Mr Pistorius’s friends to say how much in love he and Steenkamp had been.

Mr Nair also said he had ordered that Mr Pistorius be kept in a police cell instead of prison during his bail application to avoid delays in his consultations with his counsel.

"I do, however, wish to stress that I am not creating any precedent," he said.

The evidence presented in court this week was based on an initial report of the crime scene, and the point of the application was to determine whether Mr Pistorius — who did not testify — should be granted bail.

‘Probable’ actions

On Friday morning, Mr Nair heard submissions from the state and Mr Pistorius’s defence.

The Paralympic and Olympic athlete’s lawyer, Barry Roux, said his client’s actions after the shooting of Steenkamp had been "probable".

Explaining the "frantic moment" when Mr Pistorius realised Steenkamp was not in bed after she was shot in the bathroom, Adv Roux said it was "probable" that he ran downstairs to unlock the front door to let help in, after he had phoned the residential estate manager.

"These are the facts. There is nothing improbable about that," he said.

Adv Roux also said Mr Pistorius’s alleged intention to kill a burglar could not be turned into an intention to kill his girlfriend. "The question here is, how would a reasonable person have acted under the circumstances?"

Referring to the state’s submission that Mr Pistorius was a flight risk, Adv Roux said: "It’s difficult for this man to disappear from this Earth. It would be difficult for him to go through airport security ... His legs need adjustment every month."

Adv Roux said every time his client went through airport security, there was a commotion and "security bells go off".

He added: "It’s far more difficult for a person in the position of the applicant with his known difficulties because he is easier to be identified."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel turned down an offer to address the court again, saying he could go on "forever" in his argument opposing bail.

Earlier in the day, Adv Nel said Mr Pistorius’s disability did not make him different from anyone else accused of a crime.

"The fact that he has prostheses does not make him different. If somebody with a disability commits a crime, we don’t see it differently," he said. "If this applicant can live in South Africa with his prostheses, he can live anywhere."

Adv Nel also said the "degree of violence present in this case is horrific", adding that the court should not do "lip service" to reducing crimes against women.

"Even the president said in his state of the nation address we should prioritise violence against women," said the prosecutor.

Media coverage

Mr Nair started his ruling on Friday by explaining his decision on limiting media coverage of the court proceedings.

He cited previous legal precedent and said it was time for the court to embrace the principal of open justice. Electronic media created difficulties, however, for the principle of open justice.

Mr Nair said electronic media could "distort proceedings" through an intense impact on the viewer, compared with print media and editing, which could convey an inaccurate reflection of what happened. This was "particularly dangerous" given that audio recordings did not disclose the fact of editing.

He also noted photographers and cameramen "zooming in, zooming in on the accused, flashing at will — and I have on my own witnessed this happening".

He said: "The applicant sometimes comes out of the police cells, stands in the dock, and perhaps unintentionally a large contingent of photographers and journalists flash at him and it does raise (the impression) that the accused is perhaps some kind of species that the world has not seen before."

New investigator

On Thursday, W/O Botha, the lead investigator, was removed from the case after it was revealed that he faced seven charges of attempted murder himself.

It is alleged that in 2009, W/O Botha and two other officers, while drunk, fired at a minibus taxi carrying seven passengers.

National police commissioner Riyah Phiyega quickly announced the removal of W/O Botha from the high-profile case, saying: "We do not lynch people. Botha is still a member of the South African Police Service. He is still working. He is not suspended."

The commissioner said Lt-Gen Vinesh Moonoo would now lead the investigation.

With Samuel Mungadze and Sapa