The lead detective in the Oscar Pistorius murder case is himself facing attempted murder charges for firing on a minibus full of passengers, South African police said on Thursday as prosecutors argued in court to deny the athlete bail.
Hilton Botha, who took the stand against Pistorius at the Paralympic and Olympic track star's bail hearing earlier this week, is due to appear before a judge in May over the 2011 shooting, police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said.
"Botha and two other policemen allegedly tried to stop a minibus taxi with seven people. They fired shots," Malila told Reuters.
It was unclear why the charges were reinstated against Botha, or how the latest twist in Pistorius's sensational four-day bail hearing will affect the athlete's chances of securing release from custody pending his trial.
At the time of the taxi bus shooting, Botha - a detective with 24 years on the force - was chasing a man accused of murdering a woman and disposing of her dismembered body down a drain, local media said.
The charges against him were provisionally withdrawn but reinstated on February 4 - 10 days before the shooting of 29-year-old model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in a locked toilet at Pistorius's Pretoria home, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.
"The decision to reinstate was taken on February 4, way before the issue of Pistorius came to light or the murder of Reeva was committed," NPA spokesman Medupe Simasiku told Reuters. "It's completely unrelated to this trial."
Malila said now that the court had decided to charge Botha, there would be an internal disciplinary investigation which would decide whether to keep him on the case: "At this stage there are no plans to take him off the Pistorius case."
Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed "Blade Runner" because of his carbon fiber racing blades, faces life in prison if convicted of the premeditated murder of Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day.
- Olympic and Paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius was arrested Thursday morning by South African police and charged with the muder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: AP in English
- According to initial reports, Steenkamp was shot four times in Pistorius' home (pictured here). Photo: AP in English
- The South African Olympic hero known as "Blade Runner" lives in a gated community in Pretoria. Photo: AP in English
- After undergoing police questioning, Pistorius left a police station accompanied by officers. He looked down as photographers snapped pictures, the hood on his gray workout jacket pulled up, covering most of his face. Photo: AP in English
- Steenkamp, 30, died at the scene. Photo: AP in English
- Reeva was a model was a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and the abuse of women. Sadly, she also he tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape alongside her excitement about Valentine's Day. "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she tweeted. "It should be a day of love for everyone." Photo: AP in English
- Pistorius made history in London last year when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, propelling him to the status of an athletics superstar. Photo: AP in English
- Reeva was one of FHM's (formerly For Him Magazine) 100 Sexiest Women in the World for two years running. Photo: AP in English
- Early reports from the BBC quoted nearby residents as saying the believe the killing may have been an accident in a case of mistaken identity where Steenkamp was confused with a home intruder, although no basis for such explanation was given. Photo: AP in English
- Pistorius now joins the dubious list of heroes who have fallen from grace. Photo: AP in English
JUSTICE ON TRIAL?
The revelation about Botha capped a troubling 24 hours for South Africa's prosecution service.
Under cross-examination at the bail hearing on Wednesday, the lead detective was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius's house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete's home.
Grilled by lead defense counsel Barry Roux, he also had to concede that Pistorius's version of events - that he fired into the toilet door in a blind panic thinking an intruder was lurking behind it - was plausible.
The bail hearing resumed on Thursday with prosecutors immediately admitting they had only just found out about the charges hanging over Botha.
Pressing home the defense's advantage to argue for Pistorius's release, Roux said: "The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state's case."
The 26-year-old runner denies murder and was more composed in court after repeatedly breaking down in previous hearings.
His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said his nephew was eating again after consuming nothing for six days and had spent much of his time in police custody reading the Bible.
SOUTH AFRICA AGOG
The proceedings have gripped South Africans, who have become self-appointed instant experts on the finer points of police forensics and the ins and outs of the criminal justice process.
As public opinion has swayed back and forth, schoolchildren have come to blows in playgrounds over the athlete's innocence or guilt, and on Thursday "Hilton Botha" was a top-trending topic on Twitter in South Africa.
"We talk about the case every day. It's all over the news. You can't ignore it," said Happy Ngwenya, a taxi driver waiting for rides in Johannesburg's Sandton financial district.
"He must face his music but the thing is, here in South Africa, criminals have so many rights."
With massive international media interest in the case against a global celebrity, many South Africans feel the apparent hiccups on the part of the state prosecution were hurting the country's image in the eyes of the world.
- Olympian Oscar Pistorius is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: AP Read about her.
- Steenkamp was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1983. Photo: RevistaFHM.
- She lived in Port Elizabeth where she studied the law. Photo: AP
- Six years ago she moved to Johannesburg. Photo: Getty images
- Steenkamp was also a high profile model, as well as a lawyer. She appeared in FHM magazine's 100 Sexiest Women in the World for two years running. Photo: AP
- She also participated in the reality show "Tropika Island of Treasure" which was set to debut this week. Photo: Divulgación/internet
- Reeva also was the face of Avon in South Africa. Photo: AP
- She acted in several South African television shows and programs. Photo: AP
- Steenkamp used her Twitter account to encourage her thousands of followers to fight sexual abuse. "WEAR BLACK THIS FRIDAY IN SUPPORT AGAINST (hash)RAPE," she re-tweeted just hours before she died. Photo: Divulgación/internet
- On Twitter, Steenkamp also tweeted about her excitement about Valentine's Day. "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she tweeted. "It should be a day of love for everyone." Her last tweet was an enthusiastic acceptance of a friend's invite to celebrate the day with chocolate cupcakes topped with red hearts. Photo: AP
"Bring someone from outside to sort out this mess," said businessman Godfrey Baloyi. "The whole justice system needs an overhaul."