South African Magistrate Desmond Nair has granted bail to Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic hero who stands accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeve Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day.
After four days of hearings, the double amputee track star continues to claim that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and had no intention of killing her.
Before the ruling was announced, Pistorious, 26, cried and visibly shook as the magistrate recounted the last four days of defense and prosecution arguments. When announced, Pistorious family members in the court shouted, “Yes!”
Bail is set at 1 million rand, equal to about $120,000.
Nair says Pistorius did not pose a flight risk and was not likely to interfere with state’s witnesses. Believing that justice would be served whether or not Pistorius was held in custody, he explained the bail is not a matter of guilt or innocence. He summarized the case including a series of character references from people who knew Pistorius and his relationship with Steenkamp, 29, which described the couple as happy and loving.
The prosecution’s lead investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, has been removed from the case because of “several errors and concessions” in gathering evidence, Nair said. “It is his evidence that may have been tarnished by cross-examination, not the state case.” He then added that the prosecution’s case was not airtight and that Pistorius should not “come to the conclusion that he has to flee.”
Pistorius fired 4 shots at Steenkamp with a 9mm pistol through a shut bathroom door believing, as a he claims, that the movement he heard inside the bathroom was that of an intruder. The prosecution puts forth that Steenkamp took refuge in the bathroom after an altercation with Pistorious. Prescutor Gerrie Nel said, “I am not saying the planning of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp happened weeks ahead, days ahead. I am saying the planning to kill Reeva Steenkamp happened that night.”
While Nair stated that the prosecution’s case rested on circumstantial evidence, he conceded that there were “improbabilities that need to be explored” in Mr. Pistorius’s account of events.
The most serious charge in South African law is premeditated murder carrying a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Nair cited legal requirements that the defense present “exceptional circumstances” for bail to be granted.