Prosecutors build case against Pistorius during bail hearing

Posted at 6:05 AM, Feb 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-20 06:05:33-05

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — Prosecutors said they will file more charges against Oscar Pistorius and argued the Olympian accused of killing his girlfriend is a flight risk who should be denied bail.

On the second day of Pistorius’ bail hearing Wednesday, prosecutors also said neighbors reported hearing sounds of arguing from his home that went on for an hour the morning of the shooting.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder in the Valentine’s Day shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Police officer Hilton Botha testified Pistorius, 26, had offshore accounts and a house in Italy, and that if he left South Africa it would be difficult to get him back.

The athlete sat with his head bowed, sometimes crying.

Police said they found bullets in a safe inside the house and plan to charge Pistorius with possession of unlicensed ammunition. Two boxes of testosterone and needles also were found inside the home.

Steenkamp was killed in Pistorius’ bathroom; Pistorius said he fired shots into the toilet door, thinking an intruder was in the room.

Botha said Pistorius shot directly at the toilet, saying if he had fired at the door, he would have missed the toilet.

Botha told the court there’s no way Pistorius was acting in self-defense and said he believes the athlete knew Steenkamp was in the bathroom when he shot through the door.

Police found a firearm on the bathroom mat and two cell phones in the bathroom; neither phone had been used to make a call. There was blood on one of the phones.

Botha said police believe a blood-splattered cricket bat found in the bathroom was used to break down the door to the toilet; part of the door was lying in the bathroom.

When police entered the house, Steenkamp was dressed, wearing white shorts and a black vest.

Botha described two past police encounters involving Pistorius, suggesting he is prone to violence.

The first involved an incident at a Johannesburg restaurant in which a gun was discharged. Botha said Pistorius asked someone else to take the blame for it.

Police said the second incident took place at a racetrack where Pistorius threatened to assault someone.

The charge of premeditation makes it more difficult for Pistorius’ attorneys to argue he should be released pending trial. To win bail, the defense must argue that “exceptional circumstances” exist that would justify Pistorius’ release.

In a statement read by his lawyer on Tuesday, Pistorius said he would not try to flee or influence any witnesses if he is allowed out on bail, and he argued his release wouldn’t be a danger to public order.

Magistrate Desmond Nair upgraded the charge against Pistorius to premeditated murder on Tuesday, saying he could not rule out the possibility that the track star planned Steenkamp’s death. But Nair said he will consider downgrading the charge later.

A tragic mistake?

While prosecutors and defense lawyers agree Pistorius shot Steenkamp, the track star denied intentionally killing her.

“I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated murder because I had no intention to kill my girlfriend,” Pistorius said in his statement.

“We were deeply in love and couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I loved her and I know she felt the same way.”

In his statement, Pistorius said Steenkamp came to his home February 13 for a quiet dinner. They wrapped up the night with a bit of television in bed for him, some yoga for her. She had brought him a Valentine’s Day present to open the next day.

After the couple had gone to bed, he said he got up in the early hours of February 14 to close the balcony door in his bedroom when he heard a sound in the bathroom.

Pistorius said he’d been a victim of violence and burglary in the past, and realized with terror that contractors who worked at the house had left ladders outside.

Fearing someone had entered the home through an open bathroom window, Pistorius grabbed his 9mm pistol from under the bed, moved in the dark on the stumps of his amputated legs and yelled at what he thought was the intruder to get out.

“I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eye on the bathroom entrance,” Pistorius said in his statement.

“Everything was pitch-dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light.”

“When I reached the bed, I realized that Reeva was not in bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet. I returned to the bathroom calling her name,” he said.

He said he threw open the balcony door and screamed for help, put on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick in the door to the separate room inside the bathroom containing the toilet. Then, he said, he picked up a cricket bat, smashing panels out of the door before finding a key and unlocking it.

“Reeva was slumped over but alive,” he said.

Pistorius said he called for help and was told to take her to the hospital himself.

He carried her downstairs and tried to help her, but she died.

A premeditated murder?

Prosecutors, however, painted a different picture.

They rejected Pistorius’ claim that he mistook her for a burglar, saying it would make no sense for an intruder to hide behind a locked bathroom door.

Instead, they say Pistorius armed himself, attached his prosthetic legs and walked 7 meters (23 feet) to shoot Steenkamp through a bathroom door after a heated argument.

Defense attorney Barry Roux questioned the state’s argument, asking how prosecutors would know Pistorius had put on his prosthetic legs and walked to the bathroom before shooting his girlfriend.

Police were alerted to the shooting by neighbors, and residents had “heard things earlier,” police spokeswoman Denise Beukes said.

Authorities said there had been “previous incidents” at the home, including “allegations of a domestic nature,” but did not provide details.

Case rivets fans and friends alike

The case of the global sports hero known as the “Blade Runner” has riveted stunned fans around the world.

Social media reaction to the case appeared to come down against the sports star, but was still noticeably mixed on CNN’s Facebook page.

“There’s no amount of tears that will save you,” said Anthonia Nneka Nwabueze. “Pistorius must face the law for brutally killing an innocent girl — Reeva.”

“My favorite athlete but what he did is grave and must be punished,” Carlos Alvarez Ochoa said.

But another person who posted called for patience.

“(N)one of us were in the house when his girlfriend was murdered, let’s hold off on casting stones at Oscar Pistorius,” said Adrian van Liere Since. “Just like anyone else, he deserves a just trial, and in my eyes remains innocent until proven guilty.”

Coming to his defense were two acquaintances.

“I’ve never seen him show an angry side. I’ve never seen him lose his temper,” Vanessa Haywood, a model and longtime friend, told CNN. “He’s an incredibly kind and gentle human being.”

Another endorsement came from a former girlfriend.

“I would just like to say, I have dated Oscar on off for 5 YEARS,” Jenna Edkins said on Twitter. “NOT ONCE has he EVER lifted a finger to me, made me fear for my life.”

Robyn Curnow and Kim Norgaard reported from South Africa; Ed Payne reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Nkepile Mabuse also contributed to this report.

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