PRETORIA - South African track star Oscar Pistorius was granted bail Friday ahead of his trial for murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. The ruling came after four dramatic days of testimony in what has become South Africa’s most gripping court case since the end of apartheid.
After four days of testimony, Magistrate Desmond Nair ruled that the athlete would be released on bail ahead of his trial for murdering Steenkamp.
But the decision clearly weighed on the professorial magistrate. Nair spoke for nearly two hours, even taking a lengthy detour into 17th century English law and South African law going back to the Boer war.
The courtroom, jam-packed with madly tweeting journalists from around the world, collectively held its breath as he appeared to go back and forth on his decision.
But finally, the judge rendered his decision. "I've come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail," he said.
Pistorius’ family, which has been faithfully attending the proceedings in Nair's Pretoria court cheered after the decision was announced.
Nair set the bail at 1 million rand, about $100,000. Pistorius is required to check in with police twice a week, to stay away from his house, to turn over his passports and not leave South Africa and to appear in court June 4 for his trial.
And Pistorius must hand in all of his firearms as a bail condition.
Ahead of the day’s events, Pistorius’ longtime coach Ampie Louw, said he anticipated getting the runner back on the track as soon as possible.
“The change is just that he's heartbroken, that's all," Louw said. "And for me it's tough to see that. You cannot reach out, sit next to him and say, ‘Sorry, man, this is a terrible accident,’ but I cannot do it. I must just sit here and give my support to him and that's all. I think just to get his mind cleared, the sooner he can start with a bit of work, the better.”
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel fought hard in an eloquent hourlong address to the court. In it, he vigorously questioned the plausibility of Pistorius’ claim that he shot his girlfriend of three months on accident after mistaking her for a burglar.
“We say that the court should refuse bail. The applicant has onus, the applicant gave a version that is totally improbable. The state gave a version based on objective fact,” Nel argued.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux reiterated Pistorius’ argument in asking for bail. He also raised two possibilities at the upcoming trial.
“And the question ultimately would be: how would a reasonable man have acted in the same circumstances? That’s a very different test, and of course if he acted outside what a reasonable person would have," Roux noted, "then he’s exposed to be convicted of culpable homicide. If … the finding is that he acted as a reasonable person taking everything in account, he will be acquitted.”
Even though the trial is months away, after this week's hearing, there’s no doubt that it will be closely followed around the world.