Judge in ‘Blade Runner’ case warns of ‘trial by media’

Posted on: 7:32 am, June 4, 2013, by

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — During a swift pre-trial hearing Tuesday, a South African judge delayed Oscar Pistorius’ murder case for two months — and warned that misconduct in the media could delay the process even longer.

The hearing in Pretoria lasted only about 10 minutes. The magistrate granted the prosecution’s request to postpone the case until August 19 to allow for more time for the investigation.

The judge addressed concerns Tuesday about the “sanctity of judicial processes.” He said there appears to be a trial by media, which could result in contempt of court.

The judge’s comments came days after photos of the bloody scene from Pistorius’ home were leaked to the media.

The Olympic and Paralympic track star made his first public appearance in months during the hearing Tuesday. The judge ordered Pistorius re-released on the same bail conditions he had before.

The double-amputee sprinter is charged with premeditated murder for killing Reeva Steenkamp, a model and law school graduate, on Valentine’s Day.

The date for the murder trial could be announced on August 19 — which, incidentally, would have been Steenkamp’s 30th birthday.

No one disputes that Pistorius killed his girlfriend; the point of debate is whether he intended to kill her.

Pistorius has said he thought an intruder was inside his house. He said he ran on his stumps to the bathroom, where he shot through a door four times. It was only upon returning to his bedroom, Pistorius said, that he realized Steenkamp was not in bed and that she was actually the one in the bathroom.

But prosecutors said the act was a premeditated murder — that Pistorius had an argument with Steenkamp, put on his prosthetic legs, walked to the bathroom, and shot through the door, intentionally killing his girlfriend.

The high-profile case against the Olympic athlete has strained the nerves and patience of some South Africans.

“They’ve had so much time to prepare the case against Oscar, and now we are expecting nothing more than a postponement,” Gabi Zaharieva said shortly before the hearing. “They really have to get going on this.”

Taking refuge in uncle’s house

Pistorius has been living at his uncle’s house in Pretoria for the past three months. He has grown a beard because he doesn’t want to be recognized and has surrounded himself with photos of Reeva Steenkamp, his uncle said.

“He’s got photos in his room, photos all over the place,” Arnold Pistorius told CNN’s Robyn Curnow. “He’s housebound, you know. He doesn’t go out in public places.”

Arnold Pistorius described the his nephew’s grief as unimaginable.

“What can you say if the person you love the most dies, and you were the instrument? How would you feel? It’s unthinkable.”

Trouble with the investigation

The police investigation into the killing has been beset by problems and scandals since the start.

Hilton Botha, the original lead investigator, admitted during Pistorius’ bail hearing that police had failed to wear protective shoe covers at the crime scene because they had run out of them, and that it was possible evidence had been damaged as a result.

Botha also drew audible gasps from the packed courtroom when he testified that testosterone had been found at Pistorius’ house, before being forced to admit that he hadn’t actually read the full name of the substance. The sprinter’s lawyers testified that the substance was an herbal remedy.

The Paralympian’s lawyers also got Botha to acknowledge that investigators had failed to collect any evidence that counters Pistorius’ argument that he mistakenly shot Steenkamp.

But police spokesman Phuti Setati said authorities are confident Pistorius will be convicted.

“Nothing will distract the detectives from the case. They will remain on course to make sure that they secure a murder conviction.”

If convicted of premeditated murder, Pistorius could face life in prison — which in practice typically amounts to 25 years, unless someone can prove extraordinary circumstances.

But even if a judge finds him not guilty of premeditated murder, he could still face a charge of culpable homicide, which is based on negligence. The punishment for culpable homicide is at the court’s discretion.

CNN’s Robin Curnow reported from Pretoria; Holly Yan wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Nkepile Mabuse, Nick Thompson, Hamilton Wende, Susannah Cullinane and Kim Norgaard contributed to this report.