The Oscar Pistorius Trial- Guilty or Not Guilty?
In what many are calling “South Africa’s Trial of the Century”, LY Lawyers will examine the case and the evidence for and against Oscar.
Oscar “The Blade Runner” Pistorius
Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius, otherwise known as “The Blade Runner” was famous for being a Paralympics Champion and became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics when he entered the men’s 400 metres and 4 x 400 metres relay races. He was considered as a hero in South Africa, until that tragic night on 14 February 2013 when his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp was shot and died at her home in the early hours of that morning.
Reeva Steenkamp was a fashion model in South Africa, appearing in TV commercials in South Africa, and as a casual TV presenter. Reeva was also a very intelligent and highly educated lady, achieving a Bachelor of Laws Degree in 2005, and also working as a Paralegal whilst modelling.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel
Also known as the “pitbull”, the prosecutors style was aggressive and unrelenting throughout the trial, and in particular during cross examination of Pistorius. What was amazing was his ability to engage in lengthy argumentative exchanges with Pistorius without the aid of any notes, and appearing effortless.
Defence Counsel Barry Roux
Extremely effective cross examiner who’s style is quite the opposite to that of his opponent. His persistent questioning on the same topic, proved at times to be effective in illiciting inconsistencies in testimony.
Justice Thokozile Masipa
The trial judge, who will ultimately decide Pistorius’ fate. In South Africa, jury trials do not exist to decide Criminal proceedings.
Pistorius is charged with 5 offences:
- Premeditated Murder- The prosecution must prove that Pistorius shot Steenkamp with specific intent to murder her. He could face life imprisonment.
- Murder- The Judge would need to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius did not mean to kill whoever was behind the bathroom door without malice aforethought. If convicted of this charge, Pistorius could face 15 years in jail.
- Culpable Homocide- This charge is the equivalent of manslaughter here in Australia. The judge would have to be satisfied that Pistorius did not mean to kill Steenkamp, but an intruder, who he says he thought was in the bathroom. It is possible he could avoid full time jail, depending on the level of negligence the Judge finds.
- Discharging a firearm in public- Incidents that are alleged to have occurred before the death of Steenkamp. Likely the prosecution laid these charges to tarnish Pistorius’ image and display his violent and aggressive nature.
The Evidence Against Pistorius
The defence case was that Pistorius thought that an intruder was in the bathroom of his house in the early hours of the morning. He claims that he heard a noise in the bathroom, went to pick up his firearm, approached the bathroom and shot who he thought was the intruder 4 times.
- Witnesses testimony
Various witnesses have testified that they heard arguing and a woman’s voice involved in the argument, just before 2am. This contradicts Pistorius’ version, where he says that they both went to sleep at 10pm and never woke up after that. Other witnesses, also neighbours, testified to hearing a woman’s scream at around 3 am, then gunshots, then the woman’s screaming stopped. However, the defence case was it was Pistorius’ screaming, and that he sounded like a female when he screamed in distress.
- Movement of Evidence
Pistorius claims that crime scene investigators moved pieces of evidence whilst investigating. He claimed that this was the case to explain why his version of events conflicted with the location of certain items. Pistorius claims that he got up to move the fan, close the drapes and cover the LED light with a pair of jeans to block the light. The prosecution claims that all this was a lie, and Pistorius fabricated this part of his evidence in order to explain why he did not see Steenkamp in a dark room.
- Rocky relationship where Steenkamp feared Pistorius
The prosecution introduced evidence that Steenkamp sent messages to Pistorius that illustrated her fear of his aggressive and violent behaviour.
On 27 January, 2013, just a few weeks before her death, Reeva wrote:
“I was not flirting with anyone today I feel sick that you suggested that”
“I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you will react to me”
“I do everything to make you happy and to not say anything to rock the boat with you”.
- The bathroom door was locked
At the time of the shooting, the bathroom door was locked with Steenkamp inside it. She had locked the door from the inside, taking her mobile phone with her. This is damning evidence against Pistorius, suggesting that she was running from him in fear.
Guilty or Not Guilty?
The evidence against Pistorius is compelling, to say the least. His defence that he thought the person in the bathroom was an intruder is difficult to believe, in light of the neighbours’ testimony, and quite frankly, common sense.
Why would he not ask who was in the bathroom before firing 4 shots through a closed door?
How did he not see Skeenkamp when he got out of bed, went to get his gun, and then walked to the bathroom?
Why did he not ask the person who he knew was sleeping next to him if she was safe, before dealing with the threat in the bathroom?
These are questions that are very difficult for the defence to answer, and ones surely that the Trial Judge will be asking herself over and over again.