One week after model Reeva Steenkamp was gunned down in the bathroom of her famous boyfriend athlete's home on Valentine's Day, South African prosecutors learn on Feb. 21 that justice might be compromised in the case.
At issue is the fact that another case being investigated by the same detective in the Oscar Pistorius murder case has now led to attempted murder charges against that 24-year veteran law enforcement officer.
Hilton Botha, the detective in question, along with two more officers, stands accused of shooting at a moving taxi that contained seven passengers in October 2011. And is alleged to have been drinking at the time.
Botha told journalist Karyn Maughan that he and the other detectives were on duty, not drinking as alleged, and in hot pursuit of a suspect in the Denise Stratford murder case at the time they encountered a taxi that tried to run them off the road.
Police commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega said in a news conference held Thursday after the Pistorius bail hearing that "the matter went to court," regarding Botha's alleged firing at the taxi full of occupants, and that "the matter was provisionally withdrawn," by the National Prosecutor Authority, with the understanding that an internal investigation would proceed now by police into the matter.
In light of that fact, Phiyega stressed to the press during the conference Thursday that "there is a process" in any case in which possible misconduct of an officer or detective has been alleged. And she also said that "at this point in time there is no charges" against Hilton Botha, and "at this point in time he is not suspended." She even said that she "knew him" and that "he is a good detective."
He is, however, been removed as the lead investigator in the Reeva Steenkamp murder case now that the bail hearing has more or less concluded in regards to his need to give testimony. And that appears a wise move after his missteps in court on Wednesday.
He has also been replaced as lead detective, and he has been removed altogether from the new team of investigators assembled to carry the Oscar Pistorius case into the next stage: the trial. The new lead detective will be Lt. Gen. Moonoo, who is the divisional commissioner of detective services for the law enforcement agency per a Jacanews Tweet.
And the change of leadership is, in part, to ensure that any discredit possibly visited to the police department as a result of the internal investigation into the firing on the taxi by Botha will not compromise the Reeva Steenkamp case.
However, according to this tweet from the Guardian's correspondent at the scene, David Smith, police commissioner Phiyega reminded journalists that Botha is innocent until proven guilty in the internal investigation into the matter, and that the NPA did not conclude any misconduct during their look at the matter last year, so he is not suspended from detective work on other cases.
Reeva's case is stronger with Det. Botha removed from the future phases of the investigation, as it leaves Oscar Pistorius' defense lawyer forced to fight the facts of the case rather than target the reputation of its investigators. And that's a strategy too common from defense lawyers in murder cases, unfortunately.
And the police see that obviously. And to prevent that occurrence, they've assigned what they consider their "best detective" to head the case from this point forward.