News / Africa

Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial Hinges on 'Improbabilities'

FILE - Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa.
FILE - Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa.
Reuters

Eighteen months ago when he granted Oscar Pistorius bail after the killing of his girlfriend, South African magistrate Desmond Nair noted a number of “improbabilities” in the Olympic and Paralympic star's account of the shooting.

After 41 days of testimony and drama in the Pretoria High Court, Pistorius's freedom hangs on whether the prosecution has made its case well enough to convince judge Thokozile Masipa that such improbabilities cannot be “reasonably possibly true.”

Pistorius, a double-amputee who made it to the semi-final of the 400 meters at the London 2012 Olympics, said he fired through the door into the toilet cubicle in the mistaken belief he was defending himself from a burglar.

Why, Nair had asked, did Pistorius not find out who was in the toilet before firing four 9mm hollow-point rounds?

And why did Reeva Steenkamp not let him know she was there?

Only one direct witness

With Pistorius the only direct witness, much of the state's case rests on forensics, including evidence that the sequence of Steenkamp's injuries would have allowed her to cry out, and on the testimony of neighbors who say they heard the terrified screams of a woman immediately before and during a volley of shots.

The defense said the screams came from Pistorius, at an unusually high pitch for a man because of the distress of discovering that he had unwittingly shot Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, known as “The Pitbull,” painted a picture of Pistorius, 27, as a gun-obsessed hot-head who killed Steenkamp, 29, in a fit of rage after an argument in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

Pistorius and his representatives have made no comment outside the trial since it started in early March, other than to thank friends, family and supporters.

Verdict Sept. 11

South Africa's apartheid government scrapped trial by jury in the late 1960s, meaning that 66-year-old Masipa, only the second black woman to rise to the bench, will ultimately decide Pistorius's fate when she delivers her verdict on Sept. 11.

Possible verdicts range from convictions for premeditated murder - and a minimum 25-year sentence - or a lesser count of murder, to culpable homicide - with a maximum 15-year sentence - if Masipa believes he did not intend to kill Steenkamp but did so by firing negligently or recklessly.

She could acquit if she accepts that Pistorius believed he was acting in self-defense - known formally as 'putative private defense' - when he pulled the trigger.

“This case is about the credibility of Oscar Pistorius,” said Johannesburg-based advocate Riaan Louw. “If he's not a credible witness and the judge does not accept his testimony, he's going to be convicted on either murder or culpable homicide.”

Pistorius' testimony

Pistorius gave five days of cross-examination in April under the gaze of the world's media.

By turns calm, tearful and combative, at one point he appeared to confuse the central pillar of his legal defense under questioning from Nel.

Having argued that the killing was a deliberate but mistaken act of self-preservation, he then said he pulled the trigger without thinking - an assertion that would match a so-called automaton defense but not self-defense.

Three times when under pressure during cross-examination, Pistorius blamed his legal team for differences between or omissions from the sworn affidavit prepared for his bail deposition and his evidence in court.

“When it starts happening regularly like this, and every time you get a difficult question you blame it on your lawyer, the judge is going to make a very careful note,” Johannesburg-based criminal defense advocate Mannie Wits said.

There were other inconsistencies in his evidence, including an admission that he had not after all left the bedroom to get a fan from the balcony - contradicting his bail deposition, in which he said it was during this absence from the bedroom that Steenkamp must have gone to the toilet.

Gun laws tightened

If the judge accepts his testimony and agrees that the shooting was self-defense, she must still decide whether shooting four times at an unidentified target on the other side of a closed door is legally “reasonable”.

After the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa tightened its gun laws, such that a person can shoot only if there is an imminent and direct threat - a principle Pistorius said he had read and understood as part of his firearms license test.

“He knew there was a human being in the toilet. That's his evidence,” prosecutor Nel said in closing remarks.

“His intention was to kill a human being. He has fired indiscriminately into that toilet. Then, M'lady, he is guilty of murder. There must be consequences," he said.

  • Reeva Steenkamp's parents, June (second from right) and Barry Steenkamp (second from left), arrive for the closing arguments in Oscar Pistorius' murder trial, at the high court in Pretoria, Aug. 7, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius (right) with his defense team Barry Roux (foreground), Brian Webber (left) and Kenny Oldwage (center) before the closing arguments, in the North Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, Aug. 7, 2014.
  • State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel speaks during the closing arguments in the trial of Oscar Pistorius, in the North Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, Aug. 7, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius arrives in court for the closing arguments of his trial, at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Aug. 7, 2014.
  • Henke Pistorius, father of Oscar Pistorius, leaves after listening to the closing arguments in his son's murder trial at the high court, in Pretoria, Aug. 7, 2014.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ralph White from: New York
September 03, 2014 10:33 PM
Home invaders don't break in then sit on toilets. Nor would Pistorius assume that one would. He knew exactly who was on that toilet. He should get 15 years for non-premeditated murder.


by: Steve marsh from: England central
August 19, 2014 8:41 AM
Oscar pistorius is a spoilt brat who obviously turns on the tears of self pity.
I watched him close on trial and he was even laughing at stages...oh and you can see he enjoyed watching his doctor durman trying to score points against Mr Nell...but Nell had him covered.This man will be convicted or not by a judge here...but what will he do when he stands before Jesus....God help us all...oh...and God bless Mr Nell


by: john warne from: London
August 18, 2014 9:31 AM
Don't know how this trial has dragged on this long, its blatantly obvious he shot that beautiful girl with anger in his heart, because you can see the anger in his face.


by: Elisabeth from: Virginia
August 16, 2014 10:11 AM
I believe without any doubt Oscar Pistorius wanted to kill Miss Steenkamp that night. She had futilely tried to make their relationship work, to no avail. He's a hothead and continued disrespecting her and, after 3-4 months of tension and bickering (and his temper tantrums), she realized he was immature, selfish, jealous, insecure, short-tempered and had displayed inappropriate behavior and unhealthy emotional patterns and was not the kind of man she had hoped he was - she concluded she had to end the short-lived relationship. She hoped telling him she loved him might help solve their issues but of course it didn't. He was furious when he realized she essentially was rejecting him by ending their relationship that night and he lashed out and decided to punish her rather than let her get away with "humiliating" him by leaving him. I doubt he ever even admitted before he killed her that the failure of the relationship was his own doing. As to his ridiculously improbable excuse he's hoping the Judge will accept, obviously if you have an overnight guest and you hear a noise coming from the bathroom you would ask for verbal confirmation that the noise was your overnight guest and not an intruder, e.g., "Honey, is that you in there?" Of course you would NEVER shoot without getting verbal and/or visible confirmation that your overnight guest is safe and nowhere near the path of bullets! Pistorius knew precisely what he was doing. He intentionally took her life away from her. He deserves the maximum criminal penalty and if he would get away with premeditated murder it would be a clear travesty of justice. I pray for Reeva and her family and friends that he is convicted of his true crime--a cold blooded and calculated premeditated murder in the first degree.


by: Demetre from: Canada
August 14, 2014 11:08 AM
What convinces me he's guilty is why would she be fully clothed at 2:00am in the morning if she was sleeping beside him. He lost it temporarily & he should pay for his crime of an innocent beautiful girl that some of us dream to have. He had money, fame, beautiful girl, it's beyond comprehention what he did.


by: adebisi from: ekiti state nigeria
August 13, 2014 1:53 PM
As much as I would love to have this blade runner vindicated, I can't but stop thinking he did actually murdered his gal friend knowingly. Pistorius said after d shooting, he started calling out for his girl friend and when he didn't get any response, he knew he had been shooting @ her. Then he looked for a batton or whatever and broke tru d door of d toilet. Now my question is, why would she lock herself up in d toilet? If she was in her boyfriend's house and she needed to use the toilet,would she lock herself up in there for just a minute or two or what? I therefore put it to Mr pistorius that his girl friend ran into dat toilet and locked herself up in there because she was scared! And the only person she was scared of was Mr blade runner!

In Response

by: Rosemary from: South Carolina
August 17, 2014 5:43 PM
She got up to use toilet when he was on porch getting fans. He comes back in and hears noise in bathroom not knowing she got up but thought she was still in bed. When Oscar went into bathroom to confront intruder she locked the door and was quiet so the intruder could not get in and did not know she was in there in case intruder shot Oscar first. Then intruder would rob the place and perhaps not even know she was there.

As horrible as this is for Reeva and her family, I believe given the crime in South Africa and the vulnerability of Oscar being on stumps, it is possible this was an accident. It is possible the screams the witnesses heard were indeed Oscar's.


by: sugar
August 13, 2014 1:46 PM
He's a hot head. I have no doubt he's sorry now, put it's pretty clear that he was angry and shot her.


by: jonny from: sokoto,Nigeria
August 13, 2014 12:40 PM
this young man is evidently culpable, just snuffed dat angel coldly. pray he may get away with life as a deterrent to others


by: Barb from: Cleveland oh
August 13, 2014 7:50 AM
No one has mentioned anything about mr pistorious' guard dogs and why they did not bark during this invasion. Also how could his servant not possibly have heard anything?


by: tom from: austin
August 12, 2014 2:11 PM
Hoping the perp gets life. He obviously snuffed out the woman for no good reason.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid