Pistorius bail decision expected in S.African court

PRETORIA Fri Feb 22, 2013 4:53am IST

Oscar Pistorius enters the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court, February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Oscar Pistorius enters the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court, February 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

PRETORIA (Reuters) - A judge is likely to decide on Friday whether to grant bail to Oscar Pistorius, with prosecutors arguing he is a cold-blooded killer and his own lawyers that he is far too famous to have any chance of fleeing prosecution.

The bail hearing, which began last Friday, was set to resume at 0800 GMT.

Defence lawyers for Pistorius say the athlete shot dead his girlfriend only by terrible mistake, and deserves bail to prepare for a case that has garnered global attention and has been marred by a bungled police investigation.

The star "blade runner", whose lower legs were amputated in infancy, has become an even more globally recognised figure since he killed model Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day at his home.

Prosecutors have told the court it was a premeditated murder, with Pistorius firing four shots through a locked toilet door at a cowering Steenkamp on the other side. She was hit in the head, arm and hip.

Witnesses said they heard a gunshots and screams from the home in a gated community surrounded by 3-metre- (yard-) high stone walls and topped with an electric fence.

Pistorius contends he was acting in self-defence, mistaking Steenkamp for an intruder and feeling vulnerable because he was unable to attach his prosthetic limbs in time to confront the threat, he said in an affidavit read in court.

The 26-year-old said he grabbed a 9-mm pistol from under his bed and went into the bathroom.

Pistorius described how he fired into the locked toilet door in a blind panic in the mistaken belief that the intruder was lurking inside.

Bail hearings in South Africa allow for prosecutors and defence lawyers to lay out their basic arguments, based on preliminary evidence.

The arrest of Pistorius stunned millions who watched in awe last year as the Olympic and Paralympic sprinter reached the semi-final of the 400 m in the London Olympics.

The impact has been greatest in sports-mad South Africa, where Pistorius was seen as a rare hero who commanded respect from both blacks and whites, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid.

Police investigating Pistorius pulled their lead detective off the athlete's case on Thursday after it emerged he himself faces attempted murder charges for shooting at a minibus.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Andrew Roche)

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