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Pistorius sobs, shakes in court

Olympian charged with murder granted bail

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JOHANNESBURG -- Although South African athlete Oscar Pistorius was released from custody on bail Friday, analysts say he faces significant hurdles in trying to beat murder charges for his girlfriend's shooting death.

Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair, who ruled Pistorius was not a flight risk and could be released on C$110,079 bail, said he had difficulties with "improbabilities" in Pistorius' account of what happened at his Pretoria home in the early hours of Valentine's Day.

Pistorius, the double-amputee runner who used carbon-fibre legs to compete in last year's London Olympics, is accused of premeditated murder in the fatal shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, 29. The prosecution believes the couple argued and she fled, terrified, and locked herself in the bathroom, where he shot her.

The 26-year-old Pistorius insists he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar, shooting her through a wooden door in the bathroom. Authorities said she suffered wounds to her head and arm.

Nair said Friday he found it difficult to understand why Pistorius, believing there was an intruder, didn't take steps to make sure he knew where his girlfriend was before opening fire. The chief magistrate also said he had difficulties understanding why Pistorius, who said in an affidavit he'd felt "vulnerable" without his prosthetic legs, would have immediately walked into a dangerous situation, thinking the burglar was in the toilet near his bedroom.

Legal experts said other factors that the athlete's defence team can expect to face at trial include physical evidence such as analysis of a cricket bat with blood splatters Pistorius says he used to break down the door to the toilet after the shooting and accounts from prosecution witnesses other than those whose testimony was effectively challenged during the bail hearing.

As he waited for Nair's ruling, Pistorius trembled and sobbed, his body shaking. He has appeared gaunt, pale and thin during the four-day hearing, often weeping.

Defence attorney Barry Roux argued prosecutors should have charged Pistorius with a less serious offence of culpable homicide, not premeditated murder, which carries a life sentence. Nair, however, did not downgrade the charge.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel strongly opposed bail, accusing Pistorius of showing no remorse for killing someone, and just wanting to go back to his life as a famous athlete.

In announcing his decision, Nair said while the athlete had an undisputed history of aggressive behaviour, the state failed to show he was likely to commit violence or interfere with state witnesses if released.

Pistorius' supporters shouted "Yes!" when Nair made his decision after a nearly two-hour explanation of his ruling to a packed courtroom.

Sharon Steenkamp, Reeva's cousin, said the family wouldn't be watching the bail decision and hadn't been following the hearing.

"It doesn't make any difference to the fact that we are without Reeva," she told The Associated Press.

-- Los Angeles Times with files from AP


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 A25

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