Pistorius, Olympic paralympic hero, charged with murder

BY THOMAS ROSS ’14
Staff Writer

Oscar Pistorius, otherwise known as the “Blade Runner,” is a transcendent figure in the disabled community. Pistorius was the first amputee to receive a medal in an able-bodied track and field event when he did so at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics. In 2012, Oscar became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympic games. Those accolades have since been forgotten. Earlier this year, on Feb. 14, Pistorius was charged with the murder of his late girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

According to Pistorius, the incident happened in the middle of the night when he got out of bed, believing he heard an intruder in his home. Pistorius recalls being nervous because he was not wearing his prosthetic legs. So he quickly grabbed his 9mm pistol from underneath his bed. Pistorius claims he heard rumblings in the bathroom and, without further rationale, fired a series of shots through the bathroom door. This is where the defendant’s testimony starts to lose some credibility as his story has varied as to what then happened. In one version, he says he kicked down the door, which is inconsistent with Pistorius’ claim that he was fearful if there was an intruder because he did not have on his prosthetic legs on. Later, his story changed, and he recollected using a cricket bat to break down the door. Regardless of how he broke down the door, Pistorius acknowledges he may have done something bad. Somehow, he got into the bathroom and assisted the fatally wounded Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius stated, “ I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms.”

The prosecutors and Pistorius’ defense lawyers agreed on the fact that Pistorius had shot and killed Steenkamp. But Pistorius denies doing so intentionally. This produces the question of intent and whether the murder was premeditated or truly unintentional. The prosecutors believe that Pistorius first put on his prosthetic legs, fetched his gun and walked to the bathroom where Steenkamp was locked inside. But that raises a troubling question. Why did Steenkamp lock herself in the bathroom? Was she afraid of something or someone?

Pistorius was kept in police custody until his bail hearing on Feb. 19. Desmond Nair, chief magistrate of Pretoria, South Africa, oversaw the bail hearing, during which Nair upgraded the charge to premeditated murder. However, Pistorius’ attorney was able to provide the court with evidence of “exceptional circumstances” based largely on Pistorius’ own testimony, which resulted in the Chief Magistrate granting Pistorius’ request for bail.

In the upcoming months, Pistorius will prepare his defense to prove his innocence. Unlike in the United States, where someone charged with a crime is entitled to a trial by jury, all criminal trials in South Africa tried by to a single judge. Already, the proceedings in South Africa seem far different than how things would be handled in the United States. Americans will follow this case with great interest, wanting to compare to cases like that of O.J. Simpson.

Though most of the evidence seems to point to Pistorius’ guilt, he does have a significant fact going for him. The lead investigator, who was originally in charge of Pistorius’ case, was himself charged with attempted murder. He was, soon after being charged, replaced with another prosecutor. However one can’t help but think that this will materially impact the credibility of the government’s case against Pistorius.

As the world watches this intriguing story unfold from afar, Americans must keep in mind that this is not an American trial, and the twists and turns are the result of differing legal systems. Nonetheless, from the American perspective this case has been awfully mishandled by both the prosecution and the defense. In a criminal case in the United States, a defendant would never agree that he committed murder in the bail hearing. Furthermore, knowing this person killed somebody with a gun by his own admission, he is released on nominal bail? These absurdities are far too stark for a knowledgeable American to understand in the context of a civilized society. It is uncertain at the moment whether the curious course of events that has unraveled thus far is a result of the South African judicial system, the result of foul play on the part of prosecutors, or the maneuvers of Pistorius’ attorneys.

This case will continue to attract attention. Even if Pistorius is not convicted of murder, he will still face criminal charges for the firearm he had in his apartment. Again, this is not the United States, and there is no Second Amendment right which gives citizens the right to bear arms for self-defense. South Africa has much stricter gun regulations and Pistorius’s actions will not be taken lightly. The dramatic events that occurred have turned a once inspirational and world-renowned paralympic athlete who overcame insurmountable odds to compete in the 2012 Olympic games into a villain. Now the South African judicial system is making front-page headlines, as it is on trial as well as the world watches to see if justice will be served.

Questions? Email Thomas at tross@fandm.edu.

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