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Did they get Oscar Pistorius off lightly?

October 23, 2014

So the trial originally intended three weeks, concludes with as much controversy as has bedevilled it throughout its whole journey. Some twenty months after the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius learned his fate, a five year for the killings of his girlfriend and a three-year suspended sentence for the Tasha’s incident.

There are three principle issues that hang over the aftermath of this marathon trial for me; one is, there is a worrying amount of trial data/submissions that never seemed to reach any kind of conclusion or analysis, especially by Judge Masipa. Two, the verdict itself is worrying in that it appears contradictory in its nature and three, it seems as though South African justice cannot shake off the notion of there being one rule for the rich and famous and another for those who haven’t reached stardom and fame.

Point number one –

The trial never really dealt with some key issues of substance, which has left a number of observers and commentators ‘in the dark’. Issues like, how did the Court rationalise that Reeva Steenkamp would, in the midst of the chaos that erupted that night, not utter a single sound? It was one of a number of questions that OP couldn’t answer. How did the Judge Masipa view this point? I, and many others, would love to know how she rationalised this.

What was the reason for a pair of Reeva’s jeans being found on the ground floor, outside and below the bathroom window? Journalists covering the trial mused that….’ There mustn’t have been anything the prosecution could do with the evidence so it didn’t register highly’. So what?. There must have been a reason for them being there and it seems strange this didn’t come out I Court.

Despite Judge Masipa being unimpressed with Oscar Pistorius as a witness, she firmly ‘came down on this side’ In respect of the key arguments. It appears that despite their best efforts, the State just didn’t have enough evidence to get past the ‘reasonable doubt’ legal test.

Point number Two –

The verdict was interesting in that it appears the Judge has ‘hedged her bets’. She found the accused to be a less than an impressive witness but leaned towards his version. She observed in her trial summary that OP left many questions unanswered yet still gave him a substantial portion of ‘ benefit of the doubt’, as she is required to do. However, she seemed to confuse the issue of how OP, irrespective of who was behind the toilet door, must have known the impact of firing four shots into the confined space, would result in. The trial proceedings covered this issue in great depth and it is difficult to fathom where Masipa was heading with her determination on this point. It appears to most people including South African Lawyers who have commented on this matter, that she got this wrong. It does not seem ‘reasonably, possibly true’ that he didn’t appreciate the full impact of his actions given that he was a gun enthusiast who had received the required training.

Point number three –

It is difficult to fathom how Judge Masipa met her own standard of finding a punishment that sent the right messages to society, that you cant shoot with impunity. However, the sentence is interesting in that it doesn’t appear, from the initial public and legal community reaction, to satisfy either camp. The Pistorius family will probably feel ‘their boy’ got a large measure of luck with the judgment.

The distaste that heralded the sentence demonstrates unease with the outcome from most observers. How can it be the case that an ‘unimpressive’ and ‘evasive witness’ got away with what is effectively, house arrest. It transpires that, after her boss, Barry Roux, allowed Roxanne Adams her moment in the spotlight to make the triumphant statement that ‘their client’ would only serve 10 months in jail followed by house arrest.

This was shocking! Adams had the demeanour of someone whom had been defeated in their conquest but yet revelled in the quiet satisfaction that, despite their clients conviction, they had ‘got him off lightly’.

Of course, he may not have ‘got off lightly’ as there is a fourteen day window in which the sentence is considered to see if any appeal (by the State) is possible. Many argue that the Judge made a fundamental error on her verdict which would in turn, limit her options on sentencing.

The Head of South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, Mxolisi Nxasana, said on Tuesday that there was an appetite in the NPA to appeal the verdict as they believe there are grounds to challenge the ruling.

“There is an appetite to appeal and we have 14 days to consider the law, and ensure the facts and the law allow us to appeal,” NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube told reporters in court GD of the North Gauteng High Court after proceedings were adjourned.”

It seems there may be a long way to get yet in the trial that was originally scheduled for three weeks.

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