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Lead detective out in Pistorius case

1:52 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - In a dramatic twist in the murder case involving Oscar Pistorius, the lead investigator has been replaced after it was revealed that he himself faces attempted murder charges.

The decision came a day after detective Hilton Botha appeared to bungle the prosecution's case against the Olympic and Paralympic track star. Botha is facing seven counts of attempted murder and is expected to stand trial in May in relation to a 2011 shooting. Botha and two other police officers allegedly fired at a minibus during an arrest attempt.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega says its top detective Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo will take over the investigation.

"Botha has done what he was supposed to do -- now we are going into the long haul of the investigation," Phiyega said.

Phiyega said the case "shall receive attention at the national level" and Moonoo will "gather a team of highly skilled and experienced detectives."

On the third day of Pistorius' bail hearing, defense attorney Barry Roux continued to press for a downgrade in the charges of premeditated murder against his client, saying the state hasn't made its case.

"The poor quality of the evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state's case," Roux said.

However, prosecutor Gerrie Nel introduced the possibility that Pistorius could be convicted of murder without intent. "He fired four shots, not one shot," Nel said. "The only reason you fire four shots is to kill. On his own version, he's bound to be convicted."

The hearing adjourned Thursday without a decision on Pistorius' bail. Magistrate Desmond Nair is expected to decide Friday when the hearing continues for a fourth day.

The charges revealed Thursday against Botha had originally been dropped in March 2012 but were reinstated Feb. 4. Nel said he learned about the charges Wednesday.

On the stand Thursday, Botha was asked by the magistrate whether he thought it was important Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius' girlfriend, could have used her phone to contact people in the hours leading up to her death, and whether phone records had been requested. Botha answered "yes" to both questions, adding that he had not received Steenkamp's phone records.

The judge then said there seemed to be a lack of urgency from the police in obtaining the records.

Botha also said that the ballistics evidence from the scene and the blood on the cricket bat used to open the door supported Pistorius' version of events.

In rebuttal, Nel said he found it astounding that two parties can have such divergent views about the events that led to Steenkamp's death. He said no court would ever accept that Pistorius had acted in self defense.

Nel said that even if Pistorius did not intend to kill Steenkamp, he did have intent to murder.

"It was the planned killing of an intruder," Nel said. "But that would still be planned murder."

Nel said cartridges found in the bathroom indicated that Pistorius shot from close range, and that the positions of cell phones in the bathroom supported the state's theory.

The judge said the prosecutor was working on the assumption that Pistorius didn't 'orchestrate' the scene and that no one else arrived at the scene before police.

The prosecution also pointed out that according to Pistorius' affidavit, there was no imminent danger in the bedroom and that he made no concerted effort to find or wake Steenkamp. "This vulnerable person stormed the danger without his prosthesis," Nel said. "There was no question of self defense since Pistorius created the danger by storming the bathroom. He created his own feeling of vulnerability."

SUSPENDED DEAL: Nike steps back from Pistorius

Pistorius, a national hero known for his triumph over adversity, is the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics. Called the "Blade Runner" because of his carbon-fiber racing blades, Pistorius has been featured on the cover of fashion magazines and has had sponsorship deals with several companies.

Nike announced Thursday it has suspended its deal with him, saying in a statement, "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

The case has mesmerized South Africa, dominating headlines, broadcasts and social media as each new development the past few days of bail hearings brings up more questions over what really transpired that night and whether the police have acted properly.

Even so, the sentiment is still overwhelmingly against Pistorius. During the hearings, protestors, in particular women's groups have been holding signs in front of the courthouse saying "No to violence against women" and chanting "No bail for Pistorius."

"I don't know what to say, I think he killed his girlfriend," said Carine Moyo, 31, of Johannesburg. "According to the evidence and rumors, he was afraid his girlfriend was going to leave him. I think he was jealous, he loved her too much."

Wednesday, the prosecution suffered setbacks when the defense rebutted evidence against Pistorius. Botha said the police have no evidence that contradicts the athlete's version of events.

Botha also testified that needles and testosterone were found in Pistorius' bedroom, but the defense said the substance is herbal. The Associated Press reported that the substance is still being tested.

Pistorius' family released a statement Wednesday saying that he was not using any banned substances. The statement says he has never failed a doping test.

Roux accused police of twisting the evidence "to extract the most possibly negative connotation" to make their case.

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