PRETORIA, South Africa -- Ahead of a judge’s decision on whether to release Oscar Pistorius on bail, South African police on Thursday appointed a new chief detective in the murder case, replacing a veteran policeman who was himself charged with attempted murder.
The sensational twist in the state’s troubled investigation fueled growing public fascination with the case against the double-amputee Olympian, who is charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.
Pistorius, a sporting icon and source of inspiration to millions until the shooting a week ago, is backed by a high-powered team of lawyers and publicists. The abruptness of his fall, and its gruesome circumstances, have gripped a global audience and put South Africa’s police and judicial system under the spotlight.
The man at the center of the storm sat in the dock during his bail hearing, mostly keeping his composure in contrast to slumped-over outbursts of weeping and sobbing on previous days in court. In front of Pistorius, defense lawyer Barry Roux pounced on the apparent disarray in the state’s case, laying out arguments that amounted to a test run for the full trial yet to come.
Roux pointed to what he called the "poor quality" of the state’s investigation and raised the matter of intent, saying Pistorius and Steenkamp had a "loving relationship" and the Olympian therefore had no motive to plan her killing.
Pistorius, 26, said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her through a locked door in a bathroom in his home.
Much of the drama Thursday, however, happened outside the courtroom as South African police scrambled to get their investigation on track.
In a news conference at a training academy, National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said a senior detective would gather a team of "highly skilled and experienced" officers to investigate the killing of 29-year-old Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV contestant.
The decision to put police Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo in charge came soon after word emerged that the initial chief investigator, Hilton Botha, is facing attempted murder charges, and a day after he offered testimony damaging to the prosecution.