A judge has granted bail to South African track star Oscar Pistorius, who faces charges of murder in the death of his fashion model girlfriend. During a lengthy statement lasting more than an hour, Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair said Friday the prosecution had not sufficiently argued that the athlete was a flight risk.
The judge also told the Pretoria court the prosecution had met the legal threshold to argue that Pistorius planned to kill girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp when he shot her at his home on Valentine’s Day, February 14.
Pistorius denies he murdered his girlfriend, saying he shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder in the middle of the night. His defense lawyer Barry Roux has argued that Pistorius’s shooting of his girlfriend through a bathroom door was an accident, not premeditated murder.
During court appearances this week, the prosecution has repeatedly argued the athlete is a cold-blooded killer and represents flight risk. The defense has countered that Pistorius is unlikely to flee the country given his high public profile, and should be released.
The case took an unexpected twist Thursday, when the lead investigator in the case, Hilton Botha, was replaced after it was revealed he had been charged with seven counts of attempted murder. The charges, which were dropped at one point but later reinstated, are related to a 2011 incident when Botha and two other officers allegedly opened fire on a minibus. Botha was replaced by Vinesh Moonoo, the top detective of South Africa’s national police force.
The magistrate said earlier this week that he could not rule out premeditation in the case, but said the charge could be downgraded. Premeditated murder carries a possible life sentence in prison.
Pistorius is regarded as a sports hero and national icon in South Africa. He made history in August when he became the first double amputee to run at the Olympics. Since the shooting, major sponsors Oakley and Nike have each suspended their contracts with Pistorius.