Tuesday, February 19, 2013

South Africa: Hearing in Reeva Steenkamp Murder Filled with Controversy, Dodged Responsibility

As a follow-up to my last posting in Oscar Pistorius' shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, entitled "South Africa: Update--Oscar Pistorius: Looking into the Dark Side of People We May Not Really Know" (February 15), the hearing into Ms. Steenkamp's murder opened earlier today (February 19), expecting to last at least two days.

Presided by Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair, the Chief Magistrate ruled that the defendant would be charged with premediated murder.
COMMENT: At the outset, Mr. Pistorius released a statement indicating that "I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend." "We were deeply in love," an affidavit for Pistorius said, according to THE TELEGRAPH, the British publication that was among several media outlets represented in the courtroom.

Strategically speaking, it is generally a risky tactic to release a statement to any court, as it invites rebuttal and challenges at a later time.

Not knowing procedural or substantive law as it relates to South Africa, it could be far more prudent of Pistorius to "man-up," and pursue a lesser plea arrangement with the prosecution [providing they would accept it], considering that when police arrived at the crime scene at Pistorius' mansion, only two people were present in the home--Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp, the latter of whom had been shot three times and killed.

Press reports made prior to Ms. Steenkamp's death, particularly media quotes, have a way of digging a deeper hole for defendants.

For example, Oscar Pistorius said he had received death threats, which was why he kept a loaded 9mm semi-auto pistol at the ready. Unfortunately, during his upcoming trial he may well be forced to produce evidence and examples of such threats.

If in fact there was defensible history of death threats, why did Pistorius not to seek out the services of an executive protection firm to document and protect him from threats, unless, of course, such threats "symbolic" only.

As I have said previously, it appears that Pistorius was seemingly a proficient shooter, but not particularly well-skilled at knowing when NOT to shoot, which is equally important, if not more so.

Why, for example, would Pistorius shoot through a locked INTERIOR bathroom door, once, let alone three times [out of four shots fired], at a would-be assailant when he could not even SEE his "adversary"? Doing so violates the basic precepts of firearms safety.

All in all, having investigated countless acts of violence in the past, including homicide,  Mr. Pistorius has a very weak defense. He may well be best served by attempting to plead to a lesser charge, acknowledging that his competitive career and lucrative endorsements are over.

As for his on-going breaking into tears and expecting that his popularity will "save the day," all of that ended on February 14. At a minimum, he should seek out a physician who can prescribe him medication to get him through court appearances.

Given his financial resources, and opportunity for unauthorized flight, one can only hope that the Chief Magistrate denies him bail for the duration of his trial for security reasons and in deference to the Steenkamp family. 

According to the prosecution, Steenkamp had gone to her boyfriend's home to spend the night with him on February 14, only for an argument to ensue, which resulted in Steenkamp locking herself in a bathroom. Subsequently, forensic evidence no doubt will show that Pistorius fired through the bathroom door, hitting Steenkamp three times, killing her.

If there is a history of domestic violence in Pistorius' background, it no doubt will be brought up by the prosecution in an effort to demonstrate that at some level, Pistorius knew all too well that only he and Steenkamp were in the house at the time, so why did he run to grab his pistol?

If one believes that there was an intruder in the house, surely there will be physical evidence to substantiate such a claim. If there isn't, there wasn't.

Both Nike and Oakley have already terminated future endorsements for Pistorius.