Pistorius Murder Case Takes Strange Turn

Lead investigator, facing attempted murder charges of his own, is dropped

The Oscar Pistorius murder case took a weird turn in court today. South Africa police removed lead investigator Hilton Botha from the case, following the revelation that Botha himself us under investigation for seven counts of attempted murder.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega said that Botha would be replaced by the country's "top detective," Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo. Besides delaying Pistorius's bail hearing, the shocking development was the latest setback in two days of testimony that have uncovered sloppy police work and, by all counts, undermined the prosecution.

Under cross-examination on Wednesday, Botha acknowledged sloppy police work (see below) and that existing evidence didn't rule out Pistorius's own version of events. As a refresher, Pistorius claims he thought an intruder had broken into his house, and fired shots through a locked door (to the toilet, which is enclosed inside his bathroom), where he thought the intruder was hiding. The victim, who was struck three times, turned out to be Pistorius's girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp (a point that nobody disputes). Prosecutors, meanwhile, have been making the argument that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp, who cowered behind the locked door following some sort of argument between the two (The Guardian has a useful interactive graphic that lays out the premise of both cases).

On Wednesday, the defense did an effective job of picking apart some key points in the prosecution's case, as summed up here by The Guardian:

Police Pistorius fired at an angle into the toilet door. Steenkamp's wounds suggested she was not on the toilet at the time but "hiding" in the right-hand side of the toilet room.
Defence Steenkamp's bladder was empty when she died, indicating she had indeed got up to use the toilet as usually at 3am you would not find an empty bladder. Autopsy showed no sign of defensive wounds or an assault.

Police Fatal shots were fired downwards into the door, suggesting Pistorius had his prosthetic legs on, contradicting defendant's account.
Defence No evidence that Pistorius had attached his prosthetic legs before the shooting. Under cross-examination the officer leading the inquiry accepted this fact.

Police Pistorius would have had to pass his bed to walk to the bathroom, suggesting he would have noticed whether or not Steenkamp was in bed. A holster for the gun was found on the same side of the bed as Steenkamp's overnight bag and slippers.
Defence Pistorius had a shoulder problem so he slept on the other side of the bed than usual. Steenkamp had spent the previous night there too, and had slept on her usual side that night.

Police A female witness heard an argument between two people between 2am and 3am on the night in question. Another witness reported seeing the lights on, contradicting Pistorius's account that it was dark.
Defence The witness who said she heard an argument lives in a house 600 metres from Pistorius.

Police Police had been called to Pistorius's home over a previous incident, which was later dropped. Botha also raised a number of previous incidents involving guns or threats of violence and Pistorius he said he was aware of, but it was unclear whether or not this was hearsay.
The incident was now the subject of a civil case for malicious prosecution and wrongful arrest.

Police Two bottles of testosterone and needles were found at the house.
Defence It was not testosterone, but a herbal remedy. "It's not a steroid and it's not a banned substance," the defence lawyer said. The police officer admitted he did not know the name of the medication, saying he "didn't read the whole name".

Botha's attempted murder charges relate to an October 2011 incident in which he and two other police officers allegedly shot at a minivan carrying seven people. According to reports from the time, he and his colleagues were in pursuit of a suspect accused of killing and dismembering a woman, and they were trying to stop the minivan taxi.

Despite the prosecution's setback, the case continues to hurt Pistorius's international reputation, and today Nike became the latest sponsor to drop him (and, as Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods proved, that takes some doing), joining Oakley, Thierry Mugler and BT.