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Decision on bail for Pistorius due today

Published: 5:56AM Friday February 22, 2013 Source: Reuters

The world continues to wait for a ruling as the bail hearing for Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius is set to enter its fourth day.

So far the hearing has seen the head of the investigation dropped after revelations he is facing seven attempted murder charges for opening fire on a minibus full of passengers.

A series of police blunders and holes in the prosecution's argument have also been uncovered.

Pistorius faces life in prison if he is found guilty of the premeditated murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day.

A ruling is expected when the hearing resumes at 8.00pm NZ time.

The revelations about the investigation head Hilton Botha capped a troubling 24 hours for South Africa's prosecution service.

Under cross-examination at the hearing on Wednesday, the detective was accused of contaminating the crime scene in Pistorius' house and had to backtrack on details such as the distance of witnesses from the athlete's home.

Grilled by lead defence counsel Barry Roux, he also had to concede that Pistorius' version of events - that he fired into the toilet door in a blind panic thinking an intruder was lurking behind it - was plausible.

"The poor quality of evidence presented by the chief investigating officer exposed disastrous shortcomings in the state's case." Roux said in arguing for Pistorius' release.

The 26-year-old runner denies murder and was more composed in court after repeatedly breaking down in previous hearings.

His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said his nephew was eating again after consuming nothing for six days and had spent much of his time in police custody reading the Bible.

A full trial is likely to take many months, and even if he is acquitted, Pistorius faces a huge challenge to rebuild his career and image in the eyes of the millions around the world who saw him as the epitome of triumph over adversity.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel tried to recapture the initiative, reminding the court of the seriousness of the charges facing Pistorius.

"His actions are indicative of a man who was willing and ready to kill," Nel said. "There were two people in the house. One survived to give his version."

The proceedings have gripped South Africans, who have found themselves debating the finer points of police forensics and the ins and outs of the criminal justice process.

As public opinion has swayed back and forth, schoolchildren have come to blows in playgrounds over the athlete's innocence or guilt, and on Thursday "Hilton Botha" was a top-trending topic on Twitter in South Africa.

"We talk about the case every day. It's all over the news. You can't ignore it," said Happy Ngwenya, a taxi driver waiting for rides in Johannesburg's Sandton financial district.

"He must face his music but the thing is, here in South Africa, criminals have so many rights."

With huge international media interest in the case against a global celebrity, many South Africans feel that apparent slip-ups by the state prosecution are hurting the country's image.

"Bring someone from outside to sort out this mess," said businessman Godfrey Baloyi. "The whole justice system needs an overhaul."

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