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In Bail Hearing, Pistorius Says Girlfriend's Death Was Accidental

Feb 20, 2013



Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was back in a South Africa courtroom today in a bail hearing that sounded a lot like a trial. Both sides presented their versions of how it came to be that Pistorius killed his girlfriend. He admits he pumped four bullets through a bathroom door in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day. But he says he thought an intruder was behind the door and the death of Reeva Steenkamp was a horrible accident, not premeditated murder. New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen was in the courtroom today and she joins us now to talk about what came out of this morning's hearing.

And you know, just to say six months Pistorius ago was a global hero, a double amputee sprinting to Paralympic victory on carbon fiberblades, he was nicknamed the Blade Runner, and today you have the prosecution saying he did what?

LYDIA POLGREEN, BYLINE: Well, today we have the prosecution really filling out what, you know, what it's called an iron-clad case of premeditated murder. And they have on the stand the police detective who's the main detective in charge of the investigation, and he laid out the preliminary ballistic evidence, which he said showed that the - that the shots had been fired from a standing position, so therefore Mr. Pistorius had had time to put on his prosthetics and walk over to the bathroom and fire shots, which would be perhaps evidence that the shooting had been premeditated. You know, there were other - other bits of evidence that were thrown in there.

For example, his pistol was on the side of the bed that his girlfriend, Riva Steenkamp, was thought to be sleeping on, because her overnight bag and her slippers were on that side of the bed. So there were lots of things that the police detective presented that seemed to contradict the tragic mistake narrative that the defense tried to present yesterday.

MONTAGNE: And how did the defense counter this preliminary evidence that was spoken of?

POLGREEN: Well, the defense launched on a no-holds-barred attack on this investigator. They questioned just about every - everything that he had to say, and he was forced to admit that, you know, that the scenario that he had laid out was not in fact ironclad and that it was not incompatible with what Mr. Pistorius said had happened.

So for example, at one point he testified that a neighbor had heard what sounded like Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp fighting between 2:00 and 3:00 o'clock in the morning. But under questioning he admitted that the house of that neighbor was quite a ways away, not within hearing distance. So that caused a lot of gasps in the courtroom.

Another piece of evidence that was presented was that the detective said that they found steroids in Mr. Pistorius's bedroom. In fact, the defense came back and said that it was not steroids but it was actually an herbal supplement which is not a banned substance. So the inference in this being that the police had not taken the time to test this substance to find out exactly what it was before coming into court and accusing him of using steroids or testosterone. So there were a series of these sort of embarrassing slips, and this kind of seeming sloppiness could have a real impact on the impression going forward as the state is trying to prosecute Mr. Pistorius.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly then, what does it look like? This was a bail hearing, after all. Is Oscar Pistorius going to stay in jail?

POLGREEN: Well, the magistrate towards the end seemed to be leaning towards giving him bail. This is just the first step in what's going to be a very long process.

MONTAGNE: New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen, who was in the courtroom this morning for a hearing in the case against Oscar Pistorius. Thank you very much.

POLGREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.