Pistorius judge related to murder-suicide victims

Magistrate Desmond Nair, in the international spotlight last week as he delivered Oscar Pistorius' bail decision, confirmed Tuesday he is first cousin to a woman suspected of killing her two children and then herself.

JOHANNESBURG — Last week, the judge who granted bail to Oscar Pistorius was in the international spotlight, presiding over dramatic hearings in a courtroom as the Olympic athlete sat in the dock charged with murdering his girlfriend. This week, the judge is in private mourning.

Desmond Nair, chief magistrate of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court, confirmed Tuesday that he is related to a woman suspected of killing her two children and committing suicide over the weekend.

The revelation was the latest twist in the saga of Pistorius and prominent figures linked to the case against the double-amputee athlete, who faces a charge of premeditated murder in the shooting death Feb. 14 of Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model who appeared in a television reality show.

The bodies of a woman and her two sons were found Sunday evening at their Johannesburg home by her former husband, police Warrant Officer Balan Muthan said. Authorities suspect the woman administered a substance that killed her children and took her own life by ingesting it, too.

"I can confirm the deceased is my first cousin," Nair told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The woman's brother, Vishal Maharaj, identified her as Anusha Maharaj. Police said Maharaj was her family name before she married. South African media identified her as Anusha Mooljee.

Muthan said police suspect "she took her own life by ingesting a substance that killed her" and that she "most probably" gave the same substance to her children. Autopsies were conducted Monday, and toxicologists were analyzing the substance believed to have killed the three family members.

Suicide notes were found and a murder investigation was under way, Muthan said. He said copies of the notes were admitted as evidence in the inquiry and declined to comment on the contents.

 

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Eyewitness News, a South African media outlet, said the boys who died were 12 and 17 years old and cited neighbor Claire Osment as saying she rushed outside after hearing screams coming from the townhouse where they lived.

"We asked what happened. The dad just said, 'She has killed my boys.' He was just crying," Eyewitness News quoted her as saying. "He couldn't believe it — he couldn't believe that his sons are gone."

Nair, 44, has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the 2008 conviction on fraud charges of Sydney Maree, a South African who took American citizenship and became a track star in the United States; a 2011 plea agreement in which rugby player Bees Roux received a five-year suspended prison sentence for the beating death of a policeman; and inquiries into alleged misconduct by magistrates around South Africa.

Nair delivered a long discourse Friday on why he was granting bail to Pistorius, including an assertion that prosecutors had not argued persuasively that the Paralympian was a flight risk. Nair criticized shortcomings in the state's investigation, but he also said aspects of Pistorius' account of what happened were not convincing.

Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp accidentally, opening fire after mistaking her for an intruder in his home. Prosecutors alleged he intentionally shot her after the couple had an argument.

Last week, the chief investigator in the case against Pistorius, Hilton Botha, was removed from the inquiry after it was revealed that attempted murder charges against him had been reinstated in early February. The charges relate to a 2011 incident in which Botha and two other police officers allegedly fired on a minibus.

In another surprise, a lawyer for the Pistorius family said Sunday that Oscar's brother, Carl, faces a charge of unlawful, negligent killing for a 2008 road death. That charge also had been dropped and later reinstated.

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