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Swift adjournment expected in Pistorius case

Sibongile Khumalo

Athlete Oscar Pistorius will be back in court for a pre-trial hearing that is expected to be adjourned as detectives continue their investigations.

Oscar Pistorius. (Reuters)

Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius will be back in the dock on Tuesday over the Valentine's Day killing of his girlfriend, just days after a graphic photo emerged of the blood-spattered crime scene.

Pistorius is due to appear in court in Pretoria for a pre-trial hearing but both the defence and prosecution expect the case to be swiftly adjourned while detectives pursue their investigation. The athlete is accused of killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14.

The 26-year-old track star claims he shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door after mistaking her for an intruder and has assembled some of the country's best legal names for his defence.

But the prosecution argues it was premeditated murder, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Pistorius, who became an inspiration to millions as the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics last year, is currently out on bail of R1-million.

On Friday, Britain's Sky News television released leaked images showing the bloodied bathroom of Pistorius's luxury Pretoria home where 29-year-old Steenkamp was shot three times.

Leaked picture
Defence lawyers have complained to prosecutors about the leaked picture, which showed bloodstains on the toilet seat, surrounding floor and the door marked with two bullet holes just below the handle.

Police spokesperson Phuti Setati said they did not know the source of the photos but that the leak would not jeopardise their case.

The position of the bullet holes appeared to back Pistorius's claim that he was not wearing his prostheses when he fired the shots.

He said he used a cricket bat to force open the door after realising he had mistakenly shot at Steenkamp – who suffered gunshot wounds to her head, elbow and hip – and then carried her downstairs to try to resuscitate her.

Pistorius will appear in court in person, according to his lawyer Kenny Oldwage, although it is expected to be a brief hearing.

"The case is not likely to go ahead. We will have a postponement," Oldwage said.

The state hopes to finalise its case by August.

Shock waves throughout the world
Pistorius's arrest sent shock waves throughout the world and brought his stellar career to an abrupt halt.

He lost lucrative contracts with US sportswear giant Nike and French cosmetic firm Clarins, among others, and has reportedly been fined about R1-million for undeclared taxes.

His agent said last month that the star sprinter, nicknamed Blade Runner for his trademark carbon-fibre prosthetic limbs, would not be racing this season as he had to focus on the court case and was not "mentally and physically ready" to compete at high level.

The announcement came even though a raft of stringent bail conditions, including a travel ban and mandatory drug and alcohol tests, were relaxed by the North Gauteng High Court in March.

Pistorius, who had been dating Steenkamp for only a few months, has described the shooting as a "horrible accident" and openly wept on his first day in court for bail hearings in February.

The hearings were marked by a series of embarrassments for the prosecution.

Pistorius's legal team cast doubt on the testimony of key witnesses, including a neighbour who claimed to have heard "non-stop fighting" from the house before the shooting.

'I was thrown in the deep end​'
Investigating officer Hilton Botha also struggled to provide sufficient forensic evidence on the circumstances of the shooting and conceded that he may have contaminated the crime scene.

Botha was forced to retract crucial parts of the state's evidence, and it later emerged that he himself was facing charges of attempted murder for shooting at a minibus in 2011.

He was dropped from the case and a top-ranking investigator was assigned to lead the investigation.

Botha, who has since quit the police force, defended himself on Sunday in an interview with Britain's Mirror, saying the defence hijacked the bail hearing with demands for evidence that police were still processing.

"It was supposed to be a bail application," he said. "I feel I was thrown in the deep end and I had to try to answer all questions ... All the statements and stuff we were waiting for, forensics and ballistics, I didn't have."

Botha also said two witnesses decided not to talk to police, the paper reported.

Sentence of 15 years
"At that stage I had witnesses who I wanted to keep on my side," he said. "There were witnesses I'd heard of that I wanted to get statements from but then they changed their minds ... It sounds to me like someone spoke to them and they don't want to get involved," Botha said.

Pistorius's lawyers are planning to seek a lesser charge of culpable homicide. Extreme cases of culpable homicide, with proven negligence and recklessness in the killing, carry a maximum sentence of 15 years. – AFP

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