I am fascinated by the whole Oscar Pistorius tragedy. Not because he is famous, not because he is an athlete and not because he has prosthetic legs. But because he has shot and killed another human (Reeva Steenkamp), confessed openly to this, whilst at the same time constructing almost the perfect excuse/alibi.
The tragedy of course is not that he himself faces the emotional trauma, guilt and loss of accidentally killing the woman he loved and intended to marry * / a life in jail as a convicted hot-* /cold *-blooded murderer * (delete as applicable). The real tragedy is that a 29 year old woman has had her life taken violently from her, and from her family and friends. They will grieve and miss her for the rest of their own lives. Nothing good can possibly come from any of this.
What do I mean by the perfect alibi? If Pistorius did murder Steenkamp (and please lets use surnames rather than first names – this is not a story from Hello magazine), then the genius of the alibi is that there isn’t one. He has admitted to shooting her, whilst thinking he was shooting a burglar (who, incidentally, if he had existed, did not deserve to be shot either). Immediately almost all of the forensic evidence becomes irrelevant Was the murder weapon his? Verdict – Guilty. Did he fire the murder weapon? Verdict – Guilty. In firing it four times did he intend to kill? Verdict – Guilty Did he mean to kill Steenkamp? Verdict – Not Guilty (or so he says).
Or so he says. There is only one big question to answer. Who did he really think was behind the locked door of the toilet? Reeva Steenkamp or a burglar? And this in turn becomes entirely a set of questions about plausibility.
1. Can a man get out of bed, and retrieve a gun from next to the same bed, without realising the bed is empty? Apparently it was pitch dark. Was it? Were there no lights on? Didn’t Steenkamp put any lights on when she allegedly went to the toilet? Verdict – Possible but implausible.
2. Would a woman in a stable and loving relationship with a man, and nobody else in the house, lock the door when she went to the toilet? Maybe – out of habit or to guarantee privacy. But he was allegedly asleep in bed. Verdict – Possible but implausible.
5. Confronted with a noise in your house is not the first thing you would do to check on the person(s) you love in the bed next to you? Make sure they were safe, alert them to the danger, get them to call the police whilst you go off shooting with your gun? Verdict – Possible but implausible.
4. Would a man confronted with a person making a noise in the bathroom immediately decide without any doubt that this was a burglar? How did Pistorius think he got into his very secure house? Why would a burglar be in the bathroom of all places? Verdict – Possible but implausible.
5. Would a man confronted with a person making a noise in their bathroom, just shoot first? Would you not stop and listen at least for a few seconds? If they were making ablution noises would you not at least question whether it was your partner? Would you not wait, ready to confront them when they emerged? Would you not ask who they were? I spoke to a South African friend of mine about this. She said in that country you would shoot first and ask questions later. Nevertheless. Verdict – Possible but implausible.
6. After the first shot, did she not scream or make a noise which would have identified her as female, at least, if not indisputably Steenkamp? This depends on the speed of the shots. But unless the first bullet was the one to the head, the other bullets which hit her limbs would have surely made her yell in pain. Was she silent? Verdict – Possible but implausible.
Having taken most of the forensic evidence off the table, the judgement requires getting inside the mind of a man in bed with his partner, apparently confronted with a noise in his house. A house which is very secure.
Herein lies the problem. However implausible the story, the onus is on the prosecution to prove him guilty. Can they prove beyond reasonable doubt that Steenkamp ran petrified into the bathroom chased by a Pistorius. That she locked herself in the bathroom (presumably the only room with a lock) terrified, only to be shot four times through the door? One of the shots was through her shorts, so she was not on the toilet. But this doesn’t really prove anything.
A conviction needs sufficient evidence to demonstrate the accused is lying. Maybe the angle of the bullets will disprove his story that he wasn’t wearing his legs when he shot through the door.
But then there is the the critical question of the motive. There may or may not have been previous fights and arguments, even that very evening. None of that is sufficient to convict. Lots of couples have rows and shouting matches without it ending in murder. But should it emerge that one of them was cheating on the other, or wanting to end the relationship, then we have a real motive. Hell has no fury like a man or woman scorned. And yet there is no objective evidence of scorning either.
If any of these motives were true, why would they have been in bed together? Unless one they had fallen out, ostensibly “made up” only for Pistorius to return to his anger in the middle of the night intent on murder. Nobody has come forward as the “other man” or “other woman”. Maybe the text messages and phone calls will reveal something. Maybe they wont. It really is a mystery.
So maybe, implausible as it seems, it really was just a horrible “accident” caused by an impetuous and testosterone- fuelled man, half-asleep, not thinking straight, intent on defending his property and his partner. Shoot-to-kill first, ask questions later.
Only two people knew what happened that night. One is dead. Is the other one telling the truth? We cannot get inside his mind, we can only examine his story. It is possible. But is it plausible? Feel free to add your thoughts.