Lead investigator dismissed in Pistorius case
PRETORIA, South Africa -- South African police appointed a new chief investigator yesterday in the Oscar Pistorius murder case, replacing a veteran detective after unsettling revelations that the officer was facing attempted murder charges in a 2011 incident.
The sensational twist in the state's troubled investigation fueled public fascination with the case against the double-amputee Olympian, who is charged with premeditated murder in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
As Pistorius sat in the dock Thursday during his bail hearing, mostly keeping his composure in contrast to outbursts of weeping on previous days in court, defense lawyer Barry Roux pounced on the apparent disarray in the state's case.
Roux pointed to what he called the "poor quality" of the state's investigation and raised the matter of intent, saying Pistorius and Steenkamp had a "loving relationship" and the athlete had no motive to plan her killing.
Pistorius, 26, says he mistook Steenkamp, 29, for an intruder when he shot her through a locked bathroom door in his home. Prosecutors believe the shooting happened after the couple got into an argument, and prosecutor Gerrie Nel painted a picture of a man he said was "willing and ready to fire and kill."
Much of the drama yesterday, however, happened outside the courtroom as South African police scrambled to get their investigation on track. In a news conference, National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega put Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo in charge of the probe. The decision came after word emerged that the initial chief investigator, Hilton Botha, is facing seven counts of attempted murder, and a day after he offered shaky testimony for the prosecution.
Bulewa Makeke, spokeswoman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, said charges against Botha were reinstated Feb. 4. Police say they found out about it after Botha testified in Pistorius' bail hearing Wednesday.
The charges against Botha and two other police officers stem from a 2011 shooting incident in which they allegedly fired shots at a minibus they were trying to stop. Makeke indicated the charges were reinstated because more evidence had been gathered.
While Botha has been dropped from the Pistorius investigation, he has not been suspended from the police force, Phiyega said, and could still be called to testify at trial.