Thursday, September 11, 2014

South Africa: Oscar Pistouris Found Negligent in Homicide, Acquitted of Murder, Lesser Charge TBA on Sept.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympian who shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year (2013), was found "negligent" in the homicide Thursday (September 11), but was acquitted of murder charges before the court recessed for the day without a final verdict.

Judge Thokozile Masipa halted the proceedings before delivering a ruling on a lesser charge of culpable homicide and said she would resume the proceedings on Friday (September 12). "It's clear that his conduct was negligent," Judge Masipa said.

Judge Masipa said she did not find sufficient evidence to prove the prosecution’s contention that Pistorius intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp after the couple had an argument, though she did conclude that the athlete was negligent in firing his weapon four times through the door of a toilet cubicle in his residence, in which Steenkamp had locked herself.

Pistorius admitted to firing four expanding bullets into the cubicle of his bathroom, yet he insisted that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder, fired unintentionally and not meaning to kill anyone.

In a nearly day-long hearing, Judge Masipa ruled that Pistorius was negligent in firing his handgun and must have foreseen his actions would result in the death of the person inside. She also concluded that he failed to take reasonable steps to avoid that person's death.

The judge stopped short of declaring Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide before concluding proceedings for the day.

After the initial finding clearing him of murder charges, Pistorius bent over and sobbed. Relatives and supporters crowded around him, and his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, one of his closest mentors, hugged him fervently.

COMMENT: I continue to believe that Oscar Pistouris was so overcome by his fear of crime, which began when he was a youth, when his mother always had a pistol under her pillow.

Mr. Pistouris seemed physically and emotionally neutralized in being able to safely, competently and proficiently respond with deadly force in a "shoot, don't shoot" situation on the evening of February 14, 2013.

Although I am not a psychologist, I am a certified National Rifle Association (NRA) pistol instructor and certified Range Officer which causes me to conclude that Oscar Pistouris was so overcome by fear that he was incapable of neutralizing an armed assailant.

As demonstrated by several public incidents pertaining to his handling of firearms, it is my opinion that Pistorius cannot safely, competently and professionally discharge a firearm in a shooting situation. 

Judge Masipa said her decision to rule out a premeditated-murder conviction was based on the fact that all the evidence in the case was circumstantial. She found that many neighbors were mistaken when they thought they heard a woman screaming on the night of the incident. In fact, she concluded, the only person who screamed was Pistorius.

Judge Masipa said the onus had been on the state to prove its case of premeditated murder.

Masipa also found that Pistorius was a “poor witness” who was evasive and argumentative on the witness stand. She said he was not honest with the court when he denied any intention to shoot on the night of the killing. She also rejected the defense argument that this was because he was under stress and on medication.

While noting that this dishonesty was not enough to imply he must be guilty of premeditation, she found he clearly knew right from wrong and was acting consciously when he armed himself and approached the bathroom.

The issue of the testimony of neighbors was central to the judge's findings on premeditation. That charge relied heavily on the testimony of one witness who said she heard the couple quarrel on the night of the shooting, and others who said they heard a woman's screams.

The judge found that some of the witnesses were confused, some were far from the Pistorius house and others failed to distinguish what they heard from what they later picked up from the media.

"Human beings are fallible," she said in reference to the witnesses, adding that the court would rely on technology, including phone records, to establish what happened.

Judge Masipa said the most important evidence in the trial was the testimony of Pistorius, the only surviving eyewitness. She added that it was unclear from his testimony whether he intended to fire his weapon Pistorius told the court that he never intended to fire, and “fired before I could think, before I even had a moment to comprehend what was happening,” the judge said, recapping the defendant's testimony. 

The Judge  said he claimed that he fired when he heard a sound in the toilet, believing an intruder or intruders were coming out to attack him.

But she also highlighted another part of his testimony: Pistorius told the court that, had he wanted to kill the intruder inside the cubicle, he would have aimed higher.

”This assertion is inconsistent with someone who says he shot without thinking,” Masipa said, adding that she would come back to that point later in her ruling.

Pistorius pleaded not guilty to murder charges and to three minor charges involving the alleged discharge of a gun in a restaurant and out of a car sunroof, as well as the illegal possession of ammunition.

The athlete gained international fame when in 2012 he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. His trial, the first to be telecast live in South Africa, fascinated the country, with thousands commenting daily on Twitter--some convinced of the athlete’s innocence, others arguing he was guilty.

South Africa has no jury system. Masipa weighed the evidence and reached her verdict with the help of two assistants, called assessors. The judge had the last say on questions of law, while the decision of the majority held sway on questions of fact.

According to Pistorius, Steenkamp got up in the middle of the night without his noticing. He testified that he heard a noise in the bathroom and was convinced there was an intruder inside. Thinking Steenkamp was still in bed, he grabbed a gun, screamed at her to call the police, approached the bathroom and fired the shots that killed her, he testified.

During the trial, Pistorius at times vomited as the court heard testimony on Steenkamp’s horrific injuries, including a massive head wound, a shattered hip, a broken arm and a hand injury.

At other times, he wept loudly, slumped with his head in his hands, or covered his ears. But for most of the trial, he sat still, often taking notes and occasionally passing them to his legal team.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel adopted an aggressive approach, demanding that Pistorius “take responsibility” for the killing, as he showed the court a graphic photograph of Steenkamp’s head injuries.

Nel portrayed the athlete as self-obsessed, reckless and quick to anger. He played a video in which Pistorius fired shots into a watermelon, describing it as “softer than brain” and calling the bullet a “zombie-stopper,” as friends laughed uproariously.

The defense portrayed Pistorius as sensitive, highly fearful and anxious.

The court heard that Pistorius’ mother used to sleep with a gun under her pillow and raised her children to be extremely afraid of crime.

The court also heard that Pistorius was taking anti-depressants and had a sleep disorder, but a psychiatric assessment ordered by the Judge found that he did not suffer from a mental disorder that would prevent him from understanding right and wrong.

According to the defense, Pistorius was deeply in love with Steenkamp, and she with him. Numerous loving text messages were read to the court. They included pet names such as Baba and Angel.

The prosecution focused on another message from Steenkamp to Pistorius after an argument weeks before the killing: “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you react to me."