Police bring out the big guns for Pistorius case

2013-02-21 22:31
Riah Phiyega (Picture: Beeld)

Riah Phiyega (Picture: Beeld)

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Pretoria - A day of legal skirmishes between Oscar Pistorius' defence and the State about whether he murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has ended on Thursday with the news that the lead investigator in the case Hilton Botha has been removed, to be replaced by a team headed by the country's top detective, Vinesh Moonoo.

Pistorius is charged with murdering Steenkamp after she was found shot dead in his Pretoria home last week.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel began the day by telling the Pretoria Magistrate's Court during Pistorius' bail hearing that he was caught unawares when reports surfaced that the investigator in the case, Botha, was himself charged with attempted murder.

It emerged that seven attempted murder charges were hanging over Botha's head relating to an incident in 2011 when he allegedly fired shots at a minibus while trying to stop the vehicle.

There were seven people inside at the time.

The charges against Botha were earlier provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority, but after the initial investigation was completed, it was referred back to the NPA who on Wednesday decided to charge him.

Of the charges, Botha said he didn't understand why the case was reinstated adding that "I can only think this is linked to my work on Oscar Pistorius".

Long-term investigation

By late on Thursday afternoon, Botha had been removed from the case, and the country's "top detective" had been tasked with leading the investigation.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega seemed to suggest that Botha's replacement had more to to with strengthening the police's investigation than the charges hanging over his head.

"With the process of the bail application over, I, as the national commissioner of police, am appointing a new team to take the matter on a long haul and Lieutenant General Vineshkumar Moonoo is leading that team.

"Investigating officer Botha is not part of that team," she said.

"The leader of the team [Moonoo] is the top detective in [the] SAPS. He will be collaborating with the Gauteng provincial commissioner (Lieutenant General Mzwandile Petros) to put together a formidable team to do this job," said Phiyega.

"We recognise the significance, the importance and the severity of the matter," AFP reported her as saying.

"From this point forward, I will take over," Lieutenant General Moonoo told Reuters. A 32-year veteran of the force, he added: "It will not affect the court proceedings.

Phiyega stressed that Botha has not been suspended and will will still be working while the charges against him are investigated, according to the International Business Times.

She said the SAPS had been aware of the investigation into Botha and denied there was a lack of communication between the NPA and the police, adding that "we do not lynch people" so Botha must go through court proceedings before being condemned for a crime.

Phiyega said the emergence of the investigation surrounding Botha was "not embarrassing for us", saying it was a "coincidence" he was assigned to the Pistorius case.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," the website reported her as saying.

Poor police work

Earlier, Nel listened as Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux laid into Botha's "poor" police work, and said the State was falling "far short" of proving murder.

If Pistorius had wanted to kill Steenkamp, he did not have to do it in the bathroom, said Roux. "He could do it anywhere."

Roux described the couple's relationship as "loving" and said that in carrying Steenkamp down the stairs and calling for help after the shooting, Pistorius had indicated that he cared.

"Your worship... the poor quality of the evidence of investigating officer [Hilton] Botha further exposed the disastrous shortcomings of the State's case," he said.

There was no evidence that Pistorius had known that Steenkamp was in the toilet.

That Pistorius lived in a security complex did not make this aspect of the case "neutral".

"Unfortunately, it is not South Africa's best-kept secret: crime is not limited to unsecured areas," Roux said.

Nair wanted to know why Pistorius' affidavit made no mention of Steenkamp's responses when he called out to her before firing shots at what he thought was an intruder in the bathroom.

Roux said it was "unlikely" she would have responded, because she was scared.

He submitted that it was unlikely that Pistorius, who was "an icon", would flee.

"What more must he do? Is there a rule that he must be cross-examined?" asked Roux.

He also insisted that Pistorius did not own a house in Italy, even though one was referred to in a feature on him in Sarie magazine.

He argued that a report that Pistorius had accidentally discharged a firearm at Tasha's restaurant, in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, "was vague".

Roux said there would be no outrage - once his defence was heard - if Pistorius was released.

Planned shooting

However, Nel rejected Roux's argument, and said that if the State accepted Pistorius' version of events, all that was left was the "planned shooting of an intruder".

He said Pistorius seemed to be under the impression he might not be tried for the shooting.

This was reflected in his use of the words "should there be a trial" in his affidavit.

Nel said Pistorius had not offered to give up his passport, but had merely said he would if it was a condition of bail.

"We say there is nothing exceptional in this person's application. He's a man of means."

The star athlete also shouldn't get preferential treatment, said Nel.

"'I am Oscar Pistorius. I am a world renowned athlete. Can I get bail?' No, we have to look at the person," AFP reported Nel as saying.

Pistorius' "total lack of willingness to take responsibility for his deeds increases his flight risk", said Nel.

No court would ever accept that Pistorius acted in self-defence.

Nel asked why Pistorius had not seen that Steenkamp was not in bed when he reached for his firearm on a side-table.

"There's only two people in the house and you want to protect her, but you don't even look at her?"

"... I'm just saying that his version is so improbable..."

At least culpable homicide

Pistorius had said there had been threats to his life and to his security at home, but he had never opened a case with the police.

He had also got a friend to take the blame for the shooting at Tasha's.

"He was keen to arm himself and get to the intruder; his action is indicative of a man ready to arm himself, and ready to kill," said Nel.

There were two people in the house. One survived to give his version."

It was "improbable" that Pistorius had felt vulnerable, but had still headed for the bathroom door, he said.

"Nel emphasised Pistorius still faces charges if he didn't intend to kill Steenkamp.

"It is our respectful submission that he fired four shots, not one shot. The only reason you fire four shots is to kill.

"At the least there will be culpable homicide," said Nel.

Asked how he felt after the day's proceedings, prosecutor Nel replied: "Satisfied". Pistorius' counsel Roux said he felt: "Okay".

Pistorius, who had looked tired during day three of the hearing, will spend an eighth night in police custody.

The hearing resumes at 10:00 on Friday.
- SAPA
Read more on:    police  |  reeva steenkamp  |  riah phiyega  |  oscar pistorius  |  barry roux  |  gerrie nel
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