Investigator faces pending charges
PRETORIA, South Africa -- South African police say the lead investigator in the case against Olympian Oscar Pistorius faces attempted murder charges in an October 2011 shooting.
Detective Hilton Botha is scheduled to appear in court in May on seven counts of attempted murder, police Brig. Neville Malila said Thursday. Malila says Botha and two other police officers fired shots while trying to stop a minivan. The charges were initially dropped, but police said it learned Wednesday that the charges had been reinstated.
"The [Pistorius] prosecutors were not aware of those charges [against Botha]," said Medupe Simasiku, spokesman for the National Prosecution Agency. "We are calling up the information so we can get the details of the case. From there we can take action and see if we remove him from the investigation or if he stays."
Botha has 16 years' experience as a detective and 24 years with the South African Police Service.
On Wednesday, the prosecution's case against Pistorius began to unravel with revelations of a series of police blunders and Botha's admission that authorities have no evidence challenging the double-amputee Olympian's claim he killed his girlfriend accidentally. Pistorius faces a charge of premeditated murder.
Testimony by Botha left prosecutors rubbing their temples and looking down at their notes as he misjudged distances and acknowledged that a forensics team left in the toilet bowl one of the bullet slugs fired at Reeva Steenkamp.
However, Botha still poked holes in Pistorius' account that he feared for his life and opened fire on Valentine's Day after mistaking Steenkamp for an intruder.
The second day of the bail hearing in a case that has riveted South Africa and much of the world appeared at first to go against the runner, with prosecutors saying a witness can testify to hearing "nonstop talking, like shouting" between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. before the predawn shooting on Feb. 14.
However, Botha later said under cross-examination that the person who overheard the argument was in a house more than 650 yards -- about four city blocks -- from where the shooting occurred in Pistorius' gated community in the suburbs of South Africa capital Pretoria.
Later, prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned Botha again, and the detective acknowledged the distance was much closer. But confusion reigned for much of his testimony, when at one point Botha said officers found syringes and steroids in Pistorius' bedroom. Nel quickly cut the officer off and said the drugs were actually testosterone.
Pistorius' lead defense lawyer, Barry Roux, asserted when questioning the detective that it was not a banned substance and that police were trying to give the discovery a "negative connotation."
"It is an herbal remedy," Roux said. "It is not a steroid, and it is not a banned substance."
The prosecution attempted to cement its argument that the couple had a shouting match, that Steenkamp fled and locked herself into the toilet stall of the bathroom and that Pistorius fired four shots through the door, hitting her with three bullets.
Botha said: "I believe that he knew that Reeva was in the bathroom and he shot four shots through the door."
But when asked whether the police found anything inconsistent with the version of events presented by Pistorius, Botha responded that it had not. He later said nothing contradicted the police's version either.
Nel projected a plan of the bedroom and bathroom in the courtroom and argued that Pistorius had to walk past his bed to get to the bathroom and could not have done so without realizing that Steenkamp was not in the bed.
"There's no other way of getting there," Nel said.
Botha said the trajectory of the bullets showed the gun was fired pointed down and from a height. This seems to conflict with Pistorius' statement Tuesday, when the athlete said that he did not have his prosthetics on and was on his stumps and feeling vulnerable because he was in a low position when he opened fire.
Officers also found .38-caliber pistol rounds in a safe. Botha said Pistorius owned the pistol illegally and would be charged with a crime. Botha also acknowledged that investigators didn't take photographs of the ammunition and let Pistorius' supporters at the crime scene take them away.
Botha said the holster for the 9 mm pistol was found under the left side of the bed, the side on which Steenkamp slept. He implied it would have been impossible for Pistorius to get the gun without checking to see whether Steenkamp was there. Roux argued that Pistorius had suffered an injury to his right shoulder and wore a "medical patch" the night of the killing, forcing him to sleep on the left side of the bed.
Steenkamp was shot in the head over her right ear and in her right elbow and hip, breaking her arm and hip, Botha said. Roux asked Botha whether Steenkamp's body showed "any pattern of defensive wounds." The detective said no.
Botha said the shots were fired from 1.5 meters (five feet) and that police found three spent cartridges in the bathroom and one in the hallway connecting the bathroom to the bedroom. However, in cross-examination by the defense, Botha said he wasn't a forensics expert and couldn't answer some questions.
Police also found two iPhones in the bathroom and two BlackBerrys in the bedroom, Botha said, adding that none had been used to phone for help. Roux suggested that a fifth phone, not collected by the police, was used by Pistorius to make calls for a hospital and help. After the hearing, Roux told journalists that Pistorius' defense team had the phone but did not elaborate.
Guards at the gated community where Pistorius lives did call the athlete, Botha said. The detective said that all the athlete said was: "I'm all right."
He didn't hang up, Botha said, and the guards heard him uncontrollably weep.
"Was it part of his premeditated plan, not to switch off the phone and cry?" Roux asked sarcastically.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.