Oscar Pistorius: The Life Changing Key Questions

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Just a copyright note first and foremost; I am writing this blog in response to the Channel 5 Documentary first broadcast on Channel 5 at 22:00 3 Jun 2013. The information contained below is an analysis of the issues raised by the programme and views belonging to any persons involved in the documentary are theirs and theirs only. I profoundly apologise in advance for any offence, distress or bias that the relatives or those connected to Oscar Pistorius feel is present in this blog.

Background to the case: On the 14th February 2013 police say they were called to the Silver Lakes gated community in Pretoria after neighbours heard screaming and gunshots at the home of Oscar Pistorius. They found 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp being treated for gunshot wounds by paramedics.The paramedics certified her dead after efforts to save her. Police said she had been shot four times, in the head and hands, by bullets fired from a gun owned by Oscar. He was charged with murder that same day. 

Brief background to the C5 Programme: Channel 5 had enlisted the help of two prominent South African lawyers; Estelle Kilian for the prosecution, a well respected Criminal Barrister and Marius Du Toit for the defence, a well respected criminal lawyer. 

I attach a blueprint of Oscar Pistorius’ house, specifically the upper level of the house (this image was published by The Guardian on Thursday 21 February 2013 and I claim no ownership of this, you can view the interactive version here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/feb/20/oscar-pistorius-house-reeva-steenkamp-interactive). 

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 The four key questions which will determine whether Oscar is charged with premeditated murder, which carries a sentence of 25 years, or whether he walks free over the accidental killing of Reeve in order of importance are; 

1) Were the couple arguing BEFORE the shooting? 

Two witness statements that state Oscar and Reeva were heard arguing 300-600m away immediately before the shots were heard (possibly regarding the SPECULATION that Oscar was exchanging flirtatious text messages with another woman). Estelle and Marius put this to the test by having a third man play a sound clip in a house whilst they went to the perimeter fence, 300m away, the radius which the witnesses claimed they were at. They could hear nothing. They advanced 100m towards the house and they could still hear nothing. At only 50m could they hear quite audibly the sound clip which was set at the volume level that would be typical of an argument. This seems conclusive, however it is yet impossible to know whether the witnesses have correctly calculated the radius they were at and whether they advanced towards the house or stood still and listened. 

2) Is it plausible that Oscar did not notice Reeva was not in the bed beside him? 

As per the blueprint of the house, Oscar was laid on the right hand side of the bed and Reeva on the left. Oscar claims that he did not notice that Reeva was in the bed and that he jumped into “full combat recon mode” in order to secure her safety. In the programme Estelle laid in the bed, on the right hand side, whilst the lights were switched off and Marius still stood up. He concluded that he could see nothing, no persons, no bed, nothing at all. However, Oscar had still managed to find his gun, advance to the bathroom, and fire four shots through the bathroom door. Estelle rightly questions whether it is plausible that someone who believed he was being burgled would not check whether their partner were in the bed beside them by ‘feeling their way around…calling out’, etc. 

3) Was Oscar on his stumps or prosthetics when the gun used to kill Reeva was fired? This, according to C5, will be the single most crucial question in the trail. Oscar claims he was not wearing his prosthetic legs. The prosecution, it is believed, will argue that Oscar put his prosthetics and therefore had time to contemplate what he was about to do, which proves premeditated murder. In the programme Estelle and Marius attended a shooting range. Two doors were fired at four times at the approximate trajectory that Oscar fired the gun. One whilst at the height of Oscar with his prosthetics on and one with his prosthetics not on. The result was that the trajectories were very different, one going upwards and one going downwards to take into account his height. Reeva was shot in her hips, head and elbow and one bullet hit the toilet. The bathroom door belonging to Oscar, which will not be seen until the trial next year is therefore vital to both the prosecution and the defence. 

4) Was vital evidence altered AFTER the shooting? 

The programme centered on the possibility that Oscar could have concocted a cover story before the police arrived in order to protect himself. The police found the holster of the firearm was found on the left hand side of the bedroom (where Reeva would have been sleeping), 3 bullet casings, a cricket bat and two mobile phones. Estelle questions, weakly, why Reeva would need a mobile in the  bathroom, which Oscar did not mention in his affidavit. It also asked whether deleted implicating text messages, which would verify the reports of flirtatious text messages, could be  recovered, to which the answer was yes. Estelle deleted a text message, which a techie recovered and also showed Estelle and Marius how police can track the mobile phone signals from 24 hours ago. This, they believe, will be vital in either destroying or strengthening the case against Oscar. 

The programme concluded with Marius suggesting that he believes Oscar is looking at a maximum sentence of negligent killing because the argument test and darkness test were in favour of the defence. Estelle believes the defence have an uphill battle and that he is looking at a maximum sentence of premeditated murder and minimum of culpable homicide which, in light of the initial evidence I tend to agree with. 

Possible outcomes under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997: 

Premeditated murder- 25 years minimum 

Culpable homicide/negligent killing (equivalent of manslaughter) (it is possible that the case of Rudi Visagie, A former Springbok rugby player who was charged with culpable killing after he mistook his daughter for a car thief and shot her dead in the family’s driveway, will be cited as authority for this)- 15 years. 

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