Friday, January 24, 2014

South Africa: Update--Settlement with Family of Reeva Steenkamp Could Harm Oscar Pistouris in March 3 Murder Trial

According to The Associated Press, an out-of-court settlement following months of negotiations between Oscar Pistorius' lawyers and representatives of the parents of his slain girlfriend,  Reeva Steenkamp, could work against the Olympic athlete at his March 3. 

The two sides have been involved in ongoing dialogue since August 2013, a lawyer for Reeva Steenkamp's family told The Associated Press in email correspondence, and a settlement could involve Pistorius paying Steenkamp's family as much as $275,000. 

Steenkamp lawyer Dup de Bruyn first told The Associated Press in August that the parties were negotiating, but both sides have declined to comment on the details, including the amount being considered, because of their sensitive nature.

The trial of the double amputee is due to start March 3, when South Africa's one-time sporting hero will face charges of murder and illegal possession of ammunition, and also be indicted on two other charges relating to him allegedly shooting a gun recklessly in a public place on two separate occasions, prosecutors say.

COMMENT: Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp at his Pretoria home on February 14 and was charged with premeditated murder, which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment in South Africa with a minimum of 25 years before the opportunity of parole. 

Pistouris denies murder and says he shot Steenkamp with his licensed 9 mm handgun through a toilet cubicle door by mistake, fearing she was a dangerous nighttime intruder.

As I said shortly after Ms. Steenkamp's avoidable murder earlier last year, unquestionably, Oscar Pistouris, does not have a history in the safe handling of firearms. I say this as an NRA firearms instructor myself. I also spent an entire career as a Federal agent where I was armed the majority of the time.

It is uncertain as to where and from whom Mr. Pistouris received his firearms training, as discharging a lethal firearm at a person he cannot see through a bathroom door locked from the inside surely does not represent the safe handling of a handgun.

One basic precept of all firearms safe handling is NEVER, EVER acquire a hostile target that you cannot SEE, which is exactly how Ms. Steenkamp was shot and killed. 

Pistouris seemingly had no idea who was behind that door, so why did he shoot through a locked door without knowing the identity of the person behind it?

If he in fact did shoot whomever was behind the door, at a minimum, he would be negligent in discharging his firearm at an innocent person who posed no threat to him.

What will be most critical for the prosecution is the questioning of experts on what security features the residence had at the time of Ms. Steenkamp's murder. If there was a central-station intrusion alarm, what type was it and how was Pistouris' girlfriend able to circumvent it without being detected?

A conviction, either on a murder charge or on a lesser negligent killing charge, could leave an already financially strained Pistorius open to a large civil claim.

Pistorius reportedly is still ''overwhelmed'' by the shooting and continues to spend time with his family while preparing for his trial. Mr. Pistouris is rarely seen in public and is thought to be living at his uncle's home in an exclusive suburb of Pretoria after he was released on bail nearly a year ago.

The trial will be heard by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will pronounce Pistorius guilty or innocent of murder. South Africa has no trial by jury.