It’s surprising that lead investigator Hilton Botha didn’t exhibit more empathy during his testimony at Oscar Pistorius’s bail hearing on Wednesday. The police detective was beyond forthcoming when it came to laying out the prosecution’s case against the runner accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but failed to mention that he too has been charged in connection with a shooting.
According to Police Brigadier Neville Malila, Botha is scheduled to appear in court this coming May to face seven counts of attempted murder from a shooting-incident in 2011. Botha, along with two other police officers, were in pursuit of a taxi mini-bus when they opened fire on it despite it housing seven passengers inside. The case against the detectives, which included accusations of drunkenness, were eventually dismissed. However, the charges were reinstated on Tuesday, one day before Botha was set to testify at Pistorius’s bail hearing.
The timing wasn’t lost on Botha who told a reporter he believed the reemergence of the charges to be connected with his involvement in the high-profile Pistorius case. Botha further claimed his blood was never tested for alcohol and he was not drunk, but rather pursuing an investigation into the murder of Denise Stratford. According to the investigator, the police only opened fire when the taxi tried to run the officers off the road.
News of the pending court case was brought to the attention of the media on the same day as Botha’s testimony at Pistorius’s bail application in which the investigator faced an intense cross-examination from defense lawyer Barry Roux. The prosecution’s case against Pistorius looked as though it might unravel as Botha was bullied into admitting that the authorities had no evidence to dispute the South African runner’s claim that he killed his girlfriend accidentally.
The charges against Botha, whether legitimate or not, are yet another added element of drama in a case that would stretch the limits of believability if it was a work of fiction.
On Thursday, the bail hearing resumed in the strangest way possible, with a a non-practising attorney bringing a “constitutional application” to the court. She claimed that the constitution of South Africa is affected by the case, and that her application “addresses Pistorius’s mental state.” After protests from both the prosecution and defense, the attorney was told to take her application to the High Court by Magistrate Desmond Nair.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel opened the actual proceedings by saying that the prosecution was unaware of the charges against Botha until yesterday, after he had testified. Magistrate Nair then asked that the lead investigator be brought back to testify. After a short recess, Botha answered the magistrate’s questions about records from Steenkamp’s phone that haven’t been put into evidence. The detective was lightly chastised for not placing more urgency on acquiring these.
In dispute to the defense’s claims from Wednesday over the likelihood of Pistorius fleeing if granted bail, Nel read from a magazine article on Pistorius that claimed the runner spent four months of the year in Italy. According to Pistorius, as quoted from the magazine:
I spend four months a year in South Africa, have a house in Italy and spend four months a year there, it’s quiet and tranquil.
Nel further revealed that the mayor of the small town in which Pistorius stays built a track for the athlete and a gym for him to train.
After basically conceding this point, Roux took over the proceedings. He claimed that the lack of solid evidence for the prosecution wouldn’t allow them conclude Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, just murder, and that the special circumstances of the case – Pistorius’s attempts to revive Steenkamp – should result in the downgrade of the charge. He spent hours going through the prosecution’s evidence, poking holes in their claims one by one, until the proceedings were interrupted by what the magistrate called “a threat outside.”
Court security investigated the matter and the hearing resumed from almost exactly where it left off. Roux continued to attack the prosecution’s evidence. When he finally finished, Nel produced perhaps the greatest quote from the trial so far:
I always find it astounding that two parties can have such divergent views about the same set of facts.
The prosecutor went on to claim that Roux has failed to provide any examples of exceptional circumstances, and then suggested that even if the court accepts Pistorius’s version of events, the planned killing of an intruder remains. He also emphasized that even after planning a murder, it’s possible to feel remorse afterwards.
If the defense “won” day two of the hearing, the third day belonged to Nel who filled his summary with a constant barrage of rhetorical questions like this:
There are two people in the house and you hear a noise. Do you immediately assume it’s a burglar and not the person next to you?
Obviously, this isn’t the type of evidence required to win a trial, but it may be enough to ensure that bail isn’t granted for Pistorius, a decision for which we’ll have to wait yet another day.
Shortly after the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, the South African police service announced that Hilton Botha had been replaced as the lead investigator on the Pistorius case by Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo, whose ranking represents the ”most senior detective” in the service.
National Commissioner Riah Phiyega said that the case would “receive attention at the national level” and Moonoo would “gather a team of highly skilled and experience detectives” to work with him in the ongoing investigation. Seemingly only to further the comparisons to an especially bad pulp novel, Phiyega referred to Moonoo as the South African police’s “top detective.”