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Pistorius bail decision nears in South African court

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 22 Feb 2013 10:48 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Defence says Pistorius too famous to flee

* Prosecution says killing of girlfriend premeditated

* "I adore Oscar," model told gossip magazine (Recasts with timing of decision)

By Peroshni Govender

PRETORIA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A South African judge will rule on whether to grant bail to "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius on Friday afternoon, with prosecutors arguing he is a cold-blooded killer and his lawyers saying he is far too famous to pose any sort of flight risk.

Magistrate Desmond Nair told the packed Pretoria court he would release his decision after 1200 GMT, following a week of dramatic testimony recounting how the athletics star shot dead girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury home in the early hours of Feb. 14 - Valentine's Day.

Pistorius' defence team say the killing was a tragic mistake and he deserves bail to prepare for a case that has drawn worldwide attention. "He can never go anywhere unnoticed," his lawyer Barry Roux told the court on Friday.

The 26-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star's lower legs were amputated in infancy and he raced on carbon fibre blades.

The shooting and allegations that have emerged at the bail hearing have stunned the millions around the world who saw his track glory as an inspiring tale of triumph over adversity.

Prosecutors said Pistorius committed premeditated murder when he fired four shots into a bathroom door, hitting his girlfriend cowering on the other side. Steenkamp, 29, suffered gunshot wounds to her head, hip and arm.

"You cannot put yourself in the deceased's position. It must have been terrifying. It was not one shot. It was four shots," prosecutor Gerrie Nel said on Friday.

Pistorius has broken down in tears several times during the week-long hearing but appeared more composed as the bail decision loomed.

Police pulled their lead detective off the case on Thursday after it was revealed he himself faces attempted murder charges for shooting at a minibus. He has been replaced by South Africa's top detective.

In a magazine interview a week before her death, and published on Friday, Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, spoke about her three-month-old relationship with Pistorius.

"I absolutely adore Oscar. I respect and admire him so much," she told celebrity gossip magazine Heat. "I don't want anything to come in the way of his career."

SHOTS, SCREAMS

In an affidavit read out in court, Pistorius said he was "deeply in love" with Steenkamp, and Roux said his client had no motive for the killing.

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

He said he grabbed a 9-mm pistol from under his bed and went into the bathroom. He said he fired into the locked door of the toilet, which adjoined the bathroom, in a blind panic in the mistaken belief the intruder was lurking inside.

Witnesses said they heard a gunshots and screams from the athlete's home on an upscale gated community near Pretoria. The community is surrounded by 3-metre-high stone walls and topped with an electric fence.

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

The full trial is unlikely to start for several months. Pistorius faces life in prison if convicted.

His arrest last week shocked those who had watched in awe last year as he sprinter reached the semi-final of the 400 metres race 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 black and white people, transcending the racial divides that persist 19 years after the end of apartheid. (Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Pravin Char)

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