I was watching the trial of sprinter Oscar Pistorius which was televised on CNN yesterday evening. I had been following the proceedings of the trial since it first began a week or so before. For those who haven’t been keeping up to date with the news regarding the event, the case is about amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius who is being prosecuted for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He is accused of shooting her in the middle of the night in their apartment when she went to the toilet cubicle in the bathroom. Pistorius’ defence is that he had thought that it had been an intruder who was in the toilet when he heard the noise while from the toilet while he was in bed.
In the past few sessions of the trial, the prosecution, led by Gerrie Nel, tried to take apart Oscar Pistorius’ account of the shooting. Pistorius had said that when he shot at the toilet door out of fear for his life, he was at the same time yelling out to his girlfriend who he believed was back in the bedroom to call the police. He only realized that his girlfriend might have been in the toilet when he went back to the bedroom and found that she was not there, and he immediately went back to the bathroom to knock down the toilet door in the hope that the person inside was not his girlfriend. The prosecutor questions Pistorius why he had not checked the balcony of his house to see if his girlfriend was there. Pistorius’s reply was that he was alarmed by the possibility that the person in the toilet might have been his girlfriend and wanted to quickly attend to this possibility in case it was true. The prosecutor asks why Pistorius did not check for signs of intrusion into the toilet such as a ladder via the open bathroom window. Pistorius says that he was simply too distraught by the possibility that the person in the toilet was his girlfriend to take this into immediate consideration. The prosecutor asks why Pistorius was still holding his gun when he went back into the bathroom. Pistorius replies that he was simply not in a rational frame of mind to realize whether he was holding a gun or not when he went back into the bathroom.
I believe that the prosecution was trying to make the point that Pistorius had the intention all along to kill his girlfriend because he was holding the gun when he went back to the bathroom even though he knows that the person inside the toilet was his girlfriend. The judge, Thokozile Masipa, interjected to say that she disagrees with the prosecution on the ground that it is possible to know something, and yet hope for another. The session was subsequently adjourned.
Personally, I find the defence case theory weak. I find it incredible that Pistorius would assume that the noise coming from the bathroom was that of an intruder instead of his girlfriend. In my opinion, a normal person would assume that any noise in the house is coming from that of a family member first, and would check for the presence of his family member before concluding that the noise might be from an intruder. It would have been obvious to Pistorius that his girlfriend might have been in the toilet since she usually slept next to him in bed, and thus it would be apparent to him that she was in the toilet because she was not next to him. Secondly, I think it is odd that Pistorius had his gun near him during the time of the incident. I believe it was the prosecution point that Pistorius normally did not kept his gun with him on other occasions, and Pistorius reply to why he had his gun kept near him at that time was “I don’t know.” Thirdly, I don’t think there were reasonable grounds to discharge his gun into the door even if he thinks it was an intruder. I don’t believe Pistorius testimony that he was put at such state of fear of his life that he would accidentally shoot a few times at the door with the gun. Why should he be so fearful when he has a gun in his hand, and why did he shoot a few times? Wouldn’t a normal person placed in such a situation shout at whoever is in the toilet to identify himself or herself? And if Pistorius had did that, it is expected that the girlfriend inside would have responded, and he would know that it was her instead of an intruder. This point may be taken into account even if Pistorius were to be found guilty on a lower charge of using excessive force for self-protection, but I believe that it can also be used to point towards murder because it is simply unreasonable to exclude such a safe-checking measure. Moreover, isn’t it odd that an intruder would go hide himself in the toilet, and that it would be more reasonable to expect that whoever is inside is a family member using the toilet instead of an intruder trying to harm him? Another damaging witness evidence from the prosecution which I am not sure has been effectively discredited by the defence counsel is that a neighbor said that she heard screams from Pistorius’ house during that night. It corroborates with forensic evidence showing that Reeva Steenkamp was killed not by the first shot, but from the second shot from Pistorius’ pistol. If there was indeed a scream from Reeva, it would show that Pistorius had indeed known who was inside the toilet when he fired his lethal second shot.
However, I am not sure whether the prosecution is proceeding along the correct direction in trying to indict Pistorius. I think Pistorius’ explanation quite effectively explain away the argument that the prosecution is trying to make. I don’t think that holding the gun and going back to the toilet necessarily shows any intention of using the gun again. I don’t think that Pistorius’ not checking for the presence of a ladder by the open bathroom window when he went back to the toilet necessarily show that he did not suspect an intruder all along. Oscar Pistorius simply reasonably rehashes the point that in those circumstances, a normal person would not be considering these things as well. I think what would be a stronger line of questioning would be to show where it was not reasonable for Pistorius to omit such considerations. For example, why didn’t he noticed that his girlfriend was not next to him in bed when he heard the noise from the bathroom. This is certainly most peculiar especially when the girlfriend sleeps next to him all the time! Or why didn’t he check for the ladder by the window when he first went into the toilet to confirm that the person in the toilet wasn’t an intruder. It was simply a short look to his left by the toilet door. Or why he didn’t give a warning shout to whoever is in the bathroom to make sure that the person inside was not an intruder. It is a rather simple way to identify whoever is inside and one that is beyond any reasonable grounds to omit.
Pistorius seems to be relying on a certain line of defence that he might not have been the ‘normal’ person during the time of the incident. Throughout the cross-examination, Pistorius was saying things like “I was not in a rational state of mind”, “I was so afraid that it was an intruder that I didn’t consider trying to find out where my girlfriend was”, and “I was so afraid of my life that I accidentally discharge my firearm”. I am not sure whether such a compromised irrational psychological state is actually possible. It seems to me to be a convenient way for someone who is culpable of killing another to excuse himself. Yet, I asks, is this really possible? Especially when one wakes up in the middle of the night and is still feeling groggy or mentally foggy. Pistorius seems to be heavily relying on this defence, and I am not sure whether the judge will buy it.
I used to watch videos of Oscar Pistorius run back in my junior college days when I was preparing to run for a 400m inter-house event. I actually admired Oscar Pistorius as an inspirational figure who overcame his physical debilities to excel at what he does. Boy could the guy run with those pair of prosthetics running blades, even faster than many other professional athletes who had real legs! It’s sad that things come down to this today for him. If he were indeed guilty, I wonder what the motive was for killing his girlfriend. I believe that it may have been relationship issues, but all this is speculation. Objectively though, the facts seems to point towards intention to murder, and this is all the law needs to convict someone. As a judge who came over to my school to preside over an advocacy competition said, “Arguing from motives carries less weight than arguing from the facts, because motive are subjective, while facts are objective.” Nevertheless, if motives can be shown, it does strengthen the case theory argued from the facts.