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Bail Granted To Oscar Pistorius In Reeva Steenkamp Murder Case

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Oscar Pistorius in court Friday Feb. 22, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa, for his bail hearing charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Oscar Pistorius in court Friday Feb. 22, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa, for his bail hearing charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.


* Defence says Pistorius too famous to flee

* Prosecution says killing of girlfriend was premeditated

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

By Peroshni Govender

PRETORIA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A South African court granted bail on Friday to Oscar Pistorius, charged with the murder of his girlfriend, after his lawyers argued the "Blade Runner" was too famous to pose a flight risk.

The decision by Magistrate Desmond Nair drew cheers from the athlete's family and supporters, although he appeared unmoved. Pistorius had broken down in tears earlier in the week-long hearing.

The court set bail at 1 million rand ($113,000) and postponed the case until June 4. Pistorius was ordered to hand over firearms and passports, avoid his home and all witnesses in the case, report to a police station twice a week and not to drink alcohol.

The decision followed a week of dramatic testimony about how the athlete shot dead Reeva Steenkamp at his luxury home near Pretoria in the early hours of Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.

Prosecutors said Pistorius, 26, committed premeditated murder when he fired four shots into a locked bathroom door, hitting his girlfriend cowering on the other side. Steenkamp, 29, suffered gunshot wounds to her head, hip and arm.

Pistorius' defence team argued the killing was a tragic mistake, saying the athlete had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder. They said he was too famous to pose a flight risk and deserved 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 has raced on carbon fibre blades.

The Olympic and Paralympic star faces life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.

Prosecutors had portrayed him as a cold-blooded killer.

"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.


SHOTS AND SCREAMS

In an affidavit read out in court, Pistorius said he had been "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 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.

In a magazine interview a week before her death, 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."

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.

The arrest of Pistorius last week shocked those who had watched in awe last year as he 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. (Editing by Andrew Roche)

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