Magistrate Desmond Nair grants Oscar Pistorius bail

Olympic track athlete released on strict conditions until murder trial

Photographers take photos of Oscar Pistorius as he stands in the dock during his bail hearing at the magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius will be released on bail after being charged with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Magistrate Desmond Nair made the decision after hearing three days of testimony during a bail hearing.

Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder after he shot Steenkamp in his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day. The defence argued that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder. The prosecution argued that the shooting was intentional and that Pistorius shot Steenkamp as she hid behind a locked bathroom door.

Nair made his decision after speaking for nearly two hours. He recalled the testimony presented at the bail hearing over three days and went over the history of bail in the country.

Pistorius, who has been emotional throughout the bail hearing, cried as Nair read the defence’s version of events on the night Steenkamp was killed and, at one point, Nair stopped to ask Pistorius if he was OK. Pistorius’ sister, Aimee, also wiped away tears as she watched her brother cry.

Nair said that, during the bail hearing, the state had failed to prove that Pistorius was a flight risk. Nor had the state proven that Pistorius had a propensity to commit violence or that he would interfere with state witnesses, if released, Nair said. “None of the factors that need to be established have been established,” he said.

Observers in the courtroom noted that the Pistorius family linked arms and prayed after Nair delivered his decision.

Before giving his decision, Nair had harsh criticism for Hilton Botha, the police officer who was the lead investigator in the case until he was replaced on Thursday after it was revealed that he was facing seven counts of attempted murder stemming from an unrelated incident in 2011. Botha made several mistakes while investigating, Nair said. He may have contaminated the crime scene, he failed to obtain potentially valuable records for cell phones found at the crime scene and “he blundered” when needles thought to be used for testosterone injections were found at the scene.

However, Botha’s mistakes don’t mean that the state’s case against Pistorius will be compromised, Nair pointed out. “It can never be said that Warrant Officer Hilton Botha is the state police,” Nair said.

Notably, Nair also said that he would approach the charges against Pistorius as a schedule 6 offence for the time being, meaning that Pistorius will face the most serious charge of premeditated murder and not a lesser charge, as his defence had hoped. “I am not here, at this point in time, to find the accused guilty of premeditated murder,” Nair said, noting that will be up to a judge during the actual trial. A schedule 6 offence carries the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

The strict conditions of bail, as outlined by Nair, are as follows:

  • Appear in person in court in June 2013, and at all other required appearances afterward
  • Surrender all passports and travel documents
  • Refrain from applying for any additional passports
  • Don’t enter the international departures area of any airport
  • Surrender all firearms, and can’t obtain any new firearms
  • Can’t communicate with any prosecution witnesses
  • Will be placed under supervision by a correctional official and a probation officer, with a weekly report from the probation officer
  • Inform correctional official of all movements within Pretoria
  • Inform correctional official about any planned trips outside of Pretoria
  • Give a cell phone number to both correctional official and probation officer, and be available at that number during any time of the day or night
  • Can’t be charged with any additional charges pertaining to violence against women
  • No drugs or alcohol allowed, and random testing is allowed at any time
  • Can’t return to his former gated community in Silver Woods Estate, or make contact with anyone who lives there, apart from his extended family

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