Lawyers Walk Back "Testosterone" Claim in Pistorius Case

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 20 2013 5:03 PM

UPDATE: Prosecution Admits Error Over "Testosterone" Claim in Pistorius Case

Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court February 20, 2013.
Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court February 20, 2013.

Photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

UPDATE: South African officials now say that the detective who testified earlier today that police recovered two boxes of testosterone from Oscar Pistorius' bedroom spoke too soon. Medupe Simasiku, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecution Agency, told the AP after today's hearing that it was too early to say for certain what the substance was, and that it was still undergoing laboratory tests. "It is not certain (what it is) until the forensics." Simasiku said, adding that it is yet unclear whether it was "a legal or an illegal medication for now."

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Earlier today, the prosecution took care to refer to the substance as "testosterone" but not a "steroid." Pistorius's defense countered that it was "herbal remedy" and not on WADA's list of banned substances for athletes.

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Original Post at 10:15 a.m.: Oscar Pistorius was back in court Wednesday for the third time since he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his South African home in the early hours of Valentine's Day. Today's proceedings gave the world its latest look into the prosecution's murder case against a man who was the feel-good story of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Below you'll find a quick rundown of what we learned today. Keep in mind that this week's proceedings are only to decide whether Pistorius is allowed out on bail while he awaits a full trial—something that could be months away—and, naturally, both sides have presented starkly different pictures of what happened in the predawn hours of Feb. 14.

A quick cheat sheet to help you keep all of today's main players straight:

  • Gerrie Nel: the lead prosecutor
  • Hilton Botha: the police witness
  • Barry Roux: the defense attorney

Boxes of Testosterone: The most headline-ready revelation from today's action was that police recovered what they said was testosterone from Pistorius' bedroom. The prosecution did not specifically accuse the Paralympic superstar of directly using or abusing the substance, but they did note that they found two boxes of it, along with needles that could have been used to inject it, so the implication was pretty clear. Barry Roux, Pistorius' defense attorney, meanwhile, said that the substance was merely an "herbal remedy" and not a steroid or anything else on the list of banned substances for Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

It's possible that both sides are technically correct. At one point during today's proceedings, prosecutor Gerrie Nel was quick to correct detective Hilton Botha when the latter initially called the substance "steroids" instead of "testosterone." The International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence, likewise, told the AP that Pistorius passed two drug tests last year. Still, that doesn't clear up all of the confusion, as nearly a dozen forms of testosterone are among the banned substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2013 list of prohibited drugs for athletes, and at this point it's also pretty obvious that international drug testers are far from perfect when it comes to spotting drug cheats.

Inconsistencies That Aren't Inconsistent: The most confusing moment of the proceedings came during the defense's cross-examination of Botha, toward the end of which the police detective conceded that there was nothing "inconsistent" between his testimony and the version of events laid out by Pistorius in an affidavit read to the court yesterday. As the New York Times notes, that left it unclear "whether the police officer was retreating from some of his testimony." Botha's comment is particularly puzzling given earlier in the day he appeared to suggest at least one major discrepancy, something the Associated Press spotted:

Botha—who has 24 years' experience as a policeman and 16 as a detective—presented evidence that appears to disagree with Pistorius' account. Botha said the trajectory of the bullets showed the gun was fired [into the bathroom] pointed down and from a height. This seems to conflict with Pistorius' statement Tuesday, because the athlete said that he was on his stumps and feeling vulnerable because he was in a low position when he opened fired.

"Non-Stop Talking, Like Shouting": Early in today's proceedings, Nel told the court that a witness would be able to testify to hearing "non-stop talking, like shouting" between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. before the the predawn shooting, a claim that would appear to back up the prosecution's claim that Pistorius deliberately shot Steenkamp after an argument, and not because he had mistaken her for a burglar after waking up in the middle of the night. Botha, however, acknowledged during cross-examination that the witness in question was more than 650 yards from Pistorius' apartment at the time. (To put 650 yards in perspective, that's more than 2,000 feet or roughly four city blocks).

Bail May Still Be on the Table: Under South African law, people charged with premeditated murder are automatically denied bail, unless the accused convinces the court that "exceptional circumstances exist which in the interests of justice permit his or her release." The magistrate who will rule on Pistorius' bail request, Desmond Nair, left the door open somewhat for that possibility today, asking prosecutors whether they truly believed that Pistorius would attempt to flee if released on bail.

Both sides are expected to deliver their final arguments on the bail issue tomorrow. The trial itself is likely at least several months away.

**Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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