South African Judge Grants Oscar Pistorius Bail

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 22 2013 9:41 AM

Prosecution's Rough Week Ends With Pistorius Free on Bail

Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock ahead of court proceedings at the Pretoria magistrates court February 22, 2013.
Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock ahead of court proceedings at the Pretoria magistrates court February 22, 2013.

Photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

After four days of proceedings that saw the prosecution stumble as it made its case that Oscar Pistorius deliberately shot and killed his girlfriend in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day, South African Magistrate Desmond Nair granted the Olympian bail today, ruling that he did not pose an adequate flight risk to justify keeping him behind bars until his trial gets underway later this year.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

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

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." Given that, today's decision is somewhat surprising, although Nair had hinted over the last several days that he considered Pistorius, who underwent double amputation as an infant after being born without fibula bones, something of a special case. "What kind of life would he lead, a person who has to use prostheses, if he has to flee?" Nair asked the defense today. (To which the lead prosecutor replied: "A life not in prison.")


Bail was set at 1 million rand (or about $113,000) and Pistorius was ordered to surrender all of his firearms and his passport, and avoid airports and witnesses.

One of the main reasons that bail was granted, the judge said, was because Pistorius laid out his version of events in a detailed affidavit read to the court at the start of this week's proceedings, something that he did not need to do during the preliminary hearing. "That reaching out in the affidavit, the way that he did, placing it before the court," Nair said. "I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail."

Nair stressed that his decision to release Pistorius was not a judgment on his guilt or innocence, but instead about what would be gained about keeping the South African track star in jail while he awaits trial. Nonetheless, Nair made it clear that he was somewhat unimpressed with the prosecution's case as presented this week. In particular, the magistrate took issue with the actions and testimony of detective Hilton Botha, who served as the state's lead investigator until he was taken off the case yesterday after it emerged that he faces his own attempted murder charges in an unrelated case from 2011.

Botha, the judge said, made "several errors" during his testimony and "blundered" in gathering evidence. Nair added that the prosecution's case for a premeditated murder charge—which he noted relies on "nothing more than circumstantial evidence"—was not so "strong and watertight" that Pistorius "must come to the conclusion that he has to flee." Still, Nair did note that there were "improbabilities that need to be explored” in the Paralympic super star's story of how he came to shoot his girlfriend after mistaking her for a burglar.

A premeditated murder in South African carries a mandatory life sentence (with the possibility of parole). "I am not saying the planning of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp happened weeks ahead, days ahead," prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court during his closing argument this morning. "I am saying the planning to kill Reeva Steenkamp happened that night."

Pistorius's next court appearance is set for June 4.

This post was updated with additional analysis and information as it became available.

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


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.