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Pistorius bail hearing in chaos as lead detective is axed from case

South African investigating officer Hilton Botha, seen here at Oscar Pistorius' bail hearing on Tuesday.Stephane De Sakutin / AFP - Getty Images

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius' bail hearing descended into chaos Thursday as the lead detective investigating the killing of the Olympian's girlfriend was removed from the case amid attempted murder charges of his own.

Warrant Officer Hilton Botha is due to appear in court in May accused of opening fire on a minibus taxi in 2011. Charges against him were originally withdrawn but reinstated on Wednesday at the behest of the state prosecutor, police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila told Reuters.

The revelation, combined with Botha’s struggle to answer key questions under cross-examination on Wednesday, boosted the confidence of Pistorius’ defense lawyers and his family.

"We're going to win," one relative said as the family entered the courtroom at the start of the third day of a hearing examining whether the double-amputee should get bail. The sprinter is accused of the premeditated murder of model Reeva Steenkamp, 29.

"We're going in the right direction," one of Pistorius' uncles added.

There was further drama when an unidentified woman addressed the court, saying she wanted Pistorius' mental health to be examined. Her intervention was dismissed.

Later, there was a brief adjournment because of an unspecified "threat" to the court building. 

The chaotic scenes in court meant that a bail decision, which had been due on Thursday, was postponed until Friday.

Dubbed the "Blade Runner," Pistorius maintains he fired into his locked bathroom in a panic over a possible prowler. However, prosecutors say the 26-year-old put on his artificial legs and stalked Steenkamp to the bathroom to kill her.

Magistrate Desmond Nair said police had showed a lack of urgency in obtaining phone records, and asked Botha why he had given evidence in English rather than his first language, Afrikaans.

After discussion of the Botha revelations, lawyers from both sides began making their final arguments.

Pistorius’ defense lawyer referred to the "poor quality" of evidence gathered by police and said there was no evidence that the sprinter had committed premeditated murder.

He said Steenkamp spending the night at Pistorius' home was "consistent with a loving relationship.”

A prosecution lawyer called Pistorius' account of Steenkamp's death "improbable," saying: "The only reason you'd fire four shots is to kill."

'Stay strong'

The lawyer said the discovery of bullet cartridges in Pistorius' bathroom suggested a deliberate killing at close range.

At one stage, Pistorius began sobbing and his brother, Carl, placed a hand on his back to comfort him. He also whispered: "Stay strong."

The prosecution produced a magazine article in which Pistorius talked about having a house in Italy, saying it was evidence that the athlete could easily skip bail and leave South Africa.

Prosecutors also raised the prospect that Pistorius might interfere with witnesses if released on bail. The court heard that Pistorius allegedly tried to manipulate evidence after a previous incident in which his gun was accidentally fired at a restaurant.

Magistrate Nair asked if there would be shock if Pistorius was released on bail. A defense lawyer said there were be shock if the athlete was not released, referring to apparent weaknesses in the prosecution case.

Botha, an experienced detective, testified on Wednesday that a witness heard shouting for an hour coming from the house shortly before the shooting.

Another witness heard gunshots, saw lights on in the house, heard a woman screaming two or three times, then heard another few shots, Botha said.

But under cross-examination, Botha admitted one of the witnesses was 1,000 feet away from the house at the time.

Botha told the court that needles and testosterone were found in the athlete's bedroom.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux disputed that claim, saying the substance was in fact a herbal remedy and that police had misread the label. State prosecutor Gerrie Nel also had to correct Botha when he initially called the substance "steroids."

On the first day of the hearing, prosecutors and the defense presented clashing accounts of how and why Pistorius shot Steenkamp.

A court statement from Pistorius denied "in the strongest terms" that he had deliberately killed the law graduate, adding that the athlete was "deeply in love'' with her, according to Reuters.

"I had no intention to kill my girlfriend," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Nike on Thursday said it had suspended its sponsorship of Pistorius.

“We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,'” the sportswear company said in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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