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Africa

Pistorius granted bail in Steenkamp murder case

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-02-22

A South African court granted Oscar Pistorius bail Friday, as the athlete awaits trial after being accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Prosecutors say he is a cold-blooded killer, but his lawyers argue the shooting was an accident.

Oscar Pistorius was granted bail Friday, paving the way for him to be freed from custody pending his trial in the Valentine's Day shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

As Nair read his ruling at a court in Pretoria, Pistorius’ family and supporters erupted with cheers, although the athlete himself appeared unmoved. The court set bail at one million rand ($113,000), and postponed the murder trial until June 4.

Nair also ordered Pistorius to surrender his passports and avoid returning to his home or contacting any witnesses in the case.

'We were deeply in love.'

"We are relieved by the fact that Oscar got bail today, but at the same time, we are in mourning for Reeva Steenkampf and her family," the athlete’s uncle and family spokesman Arnold Pistorius said after the ruling.

The decision followed a week of dramatic testimony about how the athlete shot dead Steenkamp at his luxury home near Pretoria in the early hours of February 14, Valentine’s Day.

Defence lawyers for Pistorius argued the athlete shot dead his girlfriend in a tragic accident, and deserved bail to prepare for a case that has garnered global attention and has been marred by a bungled police investigation.

Premeditated?

Prosecutors have told the court it was a premeditated murder, with Pistorius firing four shots through a locked toilet door at a cowering Steenkamp on the other side. She was hit in the head, arm and hip.

Witnesses said they heard gunshots and screams coming from the gated community home surrounded by three-metre-high stone walls and topped with an electric fence.

Pistorius contends he was acting in self-defence, mistaking Steenkamp for an intruder and feeling vulnerable because he was unable to attach his prosthetic limbs in time to confront the threat, he said in an affidavit read in court.

The 26-year-old said he grabbed a 9-mm pistol from under his bed and went into the bathroom.

Or tragic error?

Pistorius described how he fired into the locked toilet door in a blind panic in the mistaken belief that the intruder was lurking inside.

Bail hearings in South Africa allow for prosecutors and defence lawyers to lay out their basic arguments, based on preliminary evidence.

The arrest of Pistorius - Known as “Blade Runner” - stunned the millions who watched in awe last year as the sprinter reached the semi-final of the 400 m in the London Olympics. At the Paralympics he won silver in the T44 200m, gold in the 4x100 relay and gold in the T44 400m. In 2008 he won a legal battle for the right to compete in able-bodied competitions. The runner had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones.

The impact of the case has been greatest in sports-mad South Africa, where Pistorius was seen as a rare hero who commanded respect from both blacks and whites, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.

Steenkamp was a model, rising television star and law graduate who had been dating Pistorius for around three months.

Police investigating Pistorius pulled their lead detective off the athlete’s case on Thursday after it emerged he himself faces attempted murder charges for shooting at a minibus.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-02-22

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