True crime and trial opinions from a layman's perspective
In the early morning hours of February 14, 2013, Oscar Pistorius (the Blade Runner) shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his own home much to the public’s surprise. Surely there must be an explanation for such a horrible event. He was a beloved athlete and an inspiration to many around the world, including myself.
Here is Oscar’s statement from his affidavit that was read at his bail hearing on February 19, 2013. I have interjected some of my own thoughts and common questions surrounding this case, bolded in parentheses:
16.2 I have been informed that I am accused of having committed the offence of murder. I deny the aforesaid allegation in the strongest terms.
16.3 I am advised that I do not have to deal with the merits of the case for purposes of the bail application. However, I believe that it is appropriate to deal with the merits in this application, particularly in view of the State’s contention that I planned to murder Reeva. Nothing can be further from the truth and I have no doubt that it is not possible for the State to present objective facts to substantiate such an allegation, as there is no substance in the allegation. I do not know on what different facts the allegation of a premeditated murder could be premised and I respectfully request the State to furnish me with such alleged facts in order to allow me to refute such allegations.
16.4 On the 13th of February 2013 Reeva would have gone out with her friends and I with my friends. Reeva then called me and asked that we rather spend the evening at home. I agreed and we were content to have a quiet dinner together at home. By about 22h00 on 13 February 2013 we were in our bedroom. She was doing her yoga exercises and I was in bed watching television. My prosthetic legs were off. We were deeply in love and I could not be happier. I know she felt the same way. She had given me a present for Valentine’s Day but asked me only to open it the next day.
16.5 After Reeva finished her yoga exercises she got into bed and we both fell asleep.
16.6 I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes with a view to commit crime, including violent crime. I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night.
16.7 During the early morning hours of 14 February 2013, I woke up, went onto the balcony to bring the fan in (why is there a fan outside on the porch and why does he need to bring it in during the middle of the night?) and closed the sliding doors, the blinds and the curtains. I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom. (His girlfriend was spending the night with him. Yet he never considered it could be her?)
16.8 I felt a sense of terror rushing over me. There are no burglar bars across the bathroom window and I knew that contractors who worked at my house had left the ladders outside. (The ladder being outside seems like a whole lot of extra thought process going on for the middle of the night.) Although I did not have my prosthetic legs on I have mobility on my stumps.
16.9 I believed that someone had entered my house. I was too scared to switch a light on.
16.10 I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. (He is too scared to turn on a light but not too scared to start screaming at an intruder?) It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed. (He had to retrieve his gun from under their bed yet he never feels for her or looks for her while he is reportedly yelling for her to call the police? She never responds back to him and he doesn’t think anything of that?
16.11 I noticed that the bathroom window was open. I realized that the intruder/s was/were in the toilet because the toilet door was closed and I did not see anyone in the bathroom. I heard movement inside the toilet. The toilet is inside the bathroom and has a separate door.
16.12 It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet. (Why would a violent intruder go in to a small bathroom where there is no way to escape?) I thought he or they must have entered through the unprotected window. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself. I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger. I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked (Couldn’t he just unlock it from inside the room?) and I have limited mobility on my stumps.
16.13 I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes on the bathroom entrance. Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light. Reeva was not responding.
16.14 When I reached the bed, I realized that Reeva was not in bed. If the room is still pitch black how does he realize within seconds that she is not there, and why would she be there if he had just shot off 4 rounds in the bathroom. Most people would be up and out of the bed after that happened). That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet. I returned to the bathroom calling her name. I tried to open the toilet door but it was locked. (Why is the bathroom door locked in the middle of the night?) I rushed back into the bedroom and opened the sliding door exiting onto the balcony and screamed for help. (why the need to open the door? he could have screamed from the open bathroom window, he could have hit the panic button, called a security guard, etc.).
16.15 I put on my prosthetic legs, ran back to the bathroom and tried to kick the toilet door open. I think I must then have turned on the lights. I went back into the bedroom and grabbed my cricket bat to bash open the toilet door. A panel or panels broke off and I found the key on the floor and unlocked and opened the door. Reeva was slumped over but alive.
16.16 I battled to get her out of the toilet and pulled her into the bathroom. I phoned Johan Stander who was involved in the administration of the estate and asked him to phone the ambulance. (Why not just call the ambulance or police directly?) I phoned Netcare and asked for help. I went downstairs to open the front door.
16.17 I returned to the bathroom and picked Reeva up as I had been told not to wait for the paramedics, but to take her to hospital. I carried her downstairs in order to take her to the hospital. On my way down, Stander arrived. A doctor who lives in the complex also arrived. Downstairs, I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms.
16.18 I am absolutely mortified by the events and the devastating loss of my beloved Reeva. With the benefit of hindsight I believe that Reeva went to the toilet when I went out on the balcony to bring the fan in. I cannot bear to think of the suffering I have caused her and her family, knowing how much she was loved. I also know that the events of that tragic night were as I have described them and that in due course I have no doubt the police and expert investigators will bear this out.
Here is a diagram of the interior of Oscar’s bedroom/bathroom area:
Why were there two cell phones in the bathroom?
Why is there one shell casing in the hallway?
If there was a supposed intruder in the bathroom, via the ladder/window, why are the dogs right outside not barking and security alarm not tripped?
These are just a few of the many questions that we all have that will surely be addressed at trial. Unlike the justice system in the United States, South Africa keeps much of their trial evidence guarded until trial so there are many details that have yet to come out.
The key legal players in the trial are:
Gerrie Nel, Prosecutor
Barry Roux, Defense Lawyer
Judge Thokozile Masipa – she will preside over the case and give the verdict. There are no jury trials in South Africa. She will have two assessors/advisors to discuss the case with, but ultimately she will be the only one to decide Oscar’s fate. Unlike a typical jury verdict, the judge will have to explain and justify her ruling after it is given.
Botha Hilton – the police detective who initially investigated the case and was later removed because of his own legal problems.
Colonel Van Rensburg – lead investigator.
If Oscar is found guilty of premeditated murder than he faces a mandatory life sentence per South African law.
If he is found not guilty, then he still faces a lesser charge of culpable homicide. He does not deny shooting Reeva and does not claim that it was in self-defense. Rather, he claims that he mistakenly thought she was an intruder. His defense is that all of this was a terrible mistake.
The court needs to decide if it was reasonable that he acted in the manner that he did. Shooting 4 times through a closed door when you don’t know who or what is behind it, is pretty irrational and extremely negligent. I’m not sure how he can reasonably justify this. The defense will no doubt discuss at length his life-long battle with fear, but the ruling will be based on what an “ordinary, objective” person would do in those circumstances. Just because you have irrational fears doesn’t necessarily justify excessive use of force. I believe he has a difficult battle ahead of him.