South African police replaced the lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius murder case as the double-amputee track star fought for a third day to win bail before standing trial for killing his girlfriend.
Hilton Botha, who is facing seven charges of attempted murder, was replaced by Lieutenant-General Vinesh Moonoo, Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told reporters today in Pretoria, the capital. Charges against him for a 2011 incident were reinstated yesterday, said police spokesman Neville Malila.
“We do not lynch people; we are not prejudicing anything,” Phiyega said. “Botha has done what he was supposed to do. Now we are going into the long haul.”
The announcement came after the bail hearing in a Pretoria Magistrates court adjourned until tomorrow. Botha gave evidence yesterday that Pistorius, 26, and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp argued before he shot her dead. Pistorius’s lawyer said Botha’s evidence is “tainted.”
The prosecution has disputed Pistorius’s account of how he shot Steenkamp, 29, through a toilet door at his home at about 3 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, believing her to be a burglar. If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius, dubbed the “Blade Runner” because of his prosthetic running blades, faces a maximum term of life in prison, according to Magistrate Desmond Nair.
“Botha was not a credible witness,” Barry Roux, the athlete’s lawyer, said today after the magistrate recalled the investigator to the stand. “We cannot sit back and take comfort he is telling the full truth.”
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Botha is facing seven attempted murder charges relating to an incident when he and two others shot at a minibus taxi that they were trying to stop. Nair didn’t question the investigator on the charges, which will be heard in court in May.
The allegations against Botha won’t affect the case against Pistorius, Moonoo told reporters in Pretoria.
“He will still be a witness in the case,” he said. “As an investigator he is seasoned.”
Botha conceded yesterday that Pistorius’s account of the events wasn’t inconsistent with the evidence.
Testimony presented so far falls short of proving “the existence of pre-planned murder,” Roux said. “There was no evidence that shows applicant ever knew it was Reeva.”
The prosecution will add a charge of possession of unlicensed ammunition, Nel said yesterday, after lead police investigator Hilton Botha found .38 caliber ammunition in a safe at his home. The bullets belong to Pistorius’s father, Roux said.
The state considers Pistorius a flight risk and opposes bail, Botha said. The athlete’s family said in a statement that his “iconic status internationally” made it highly unlikely that he poses such a risk.
Pistorius earns 5.6 million rand ($630,000) a year, has investments of 1 million rand and property worth more than 8 million rand, according to his affidavit.
Nike Inc. (NKE:US), the world’s largest sporting-goods company, said it was suspending its contract with Pistorius, a winner of six Paralympic gold medals and the first amputee runner to compete at an the Olympic Games in London last year.
“We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Seruscka Naidoo, a South African spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement today.
Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old, was included on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most-influential people.
Luxottica Group SpA (LUX)’s Oakley said in a e-mailed statement two days ago that it suspended its contract with him “effective immediately.” Clarins SA’s Thierry Mugler perfume brand said on Twitter that it was “removing all campaigns featuring Oscar Pistorius, out of respect and sympathy to families involved in the tragedy.”
The prosecution backtracked on Botha’s testimony that testosterone was found at Pistorius’s home. Under cross examination by Roux, Botha said he didn’t know what the substance was and that it had to be tested. National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku said in a text message late yesterday that it was not testosterone and he didn’t know its name.
Pistorius’s family rejected suggestions that he had used banned drugs.
“Oscar was not using any drugs listed on the World Anti- Doping Agency banned substances, usage of which would ban him from competing in athletics competitions,” his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said late yesterday in a statement.
Drug tests carried out on Pistorius by the International Paralympic Committee on Aug. 25 and during the Paralympic Games on Sept. 8 were negative, a spokeswoman for the Bonn-based organization said yesterday in a phone interview. She declined to identify herself in line with the IPC’s policy.
The runner and his model girlfriend had argued between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on the morning of the shooting, Botha said in court yesterday, citing a witness. The witness was about 600 meters (650 yards) away and didn’t identify Pistorius and Steenkamp as those speaking, he said. Under cross examination, Botha changed his estimate of the distance to close to 300 meters.
The lights in the house were on when another witness heard gun shots, followed by screams and another two or three shots, Botha said.
Because of the layout of the bathroom, the shots fired couldn’t have hit Steenkamp where she was sitting if he had been shooting through the toilet door as Pistorius testified, Nel said.
“If you walk in directly and fire at the door, you miss the toilet,” Nel said. Pistorius’s shots hit Steenkamp above the ear, the right elbow and the right hip, Botha said.
Pistorius said in an affidavit read out in court on Feb. 18 that Steenkamp was doing yoga exercises and he was watching TV on his bed on the night of the shooting.
In the early hours of the morning, Pistorius went to get a fan on his bedroom balcony and heard a noise in the bathroom, he said. He picked up his 9 mm pistol because he thought Steenkamp was in bed and an intruder had entered though an open window.
Walking on his stumps, he shot through the door, thinking he was in “grave danger,” Pistorius said.
Pistorius said he broke through the door with a cricket bat after realizing it may have been Steenkamp, his girlfriend of three months, and carried her body downstairs to seek help. Police found a blood-spattered cricket bat by the sink, Botha said.
The position of the bullet holes indicates Pistorius was shooting in a downward trajectory, suggesting he had already put on his prosthetic limbs, Botha said.
While Pistorius said in the affidavit he was wary of burglars because he had previously been the victim of crime, he had never reported any incidents, Botha said.
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