Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp & Premeditation

This post reflects only on the apparent legal process in the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius.
I do not claim to understand the South African legal system. On a personal level it is a self-evident tragedy. A young woman is dead and many lives are in ruins.

It seems to me that fact is nearly always stranger than fiction, so it is understandable, I suppose, that the police in South Africa, investigating and seeking a trial on the basis of premeditated murder by Pistorius, maintain that there are flaws in his defence of self-defence.

The most obvious flaw is that there was in fact no self-defence needed and tragically Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend whilst she was locked in the toilet of the bathroom in his home. The defence case seems to hinge on whether it is credible that Pistorius actually believed there was an intruder in his home. Perhaps the prosecution’s should really focus on whether he intended to shoot and kill someone through the toilet door no matter who it was in there.

Potential interpretations mapped onto the facts are unfortunately getting lost in the police’s attachment to their own theory that Oscar Pistorius intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp and the sensational, but hasty, evidence gathered to bolster the hypothesis. The prosecution maintain that the period for premeditation can be as short as the amount of time it takes to grab a gun from the side of the bed, (possibly put on one’s prostheses), walk to the bathroom and shoot through the door. It seems to me more likely that premeditation did not exist if we define it as the possibility to think things through before the fact. Fear does not usually allow for human cognition to function effectively. Factor in having just woken from sleep and darkness and it is highly unlikely many of us would be able to think straight. Premeditation implies some higher level cognitive executive function – shooting your girlfriend through a locked bathroom door does not.

Even if we accept that Pistorius was in the grip of fear, is shooting through the door whilst not knowing who was in the toilet a defence against the charge of premeditated murder, or does it just provide evidence for self-defence? Still, as the police want to show he planned to kill his girlfriend, they have produced a witness who heard shouting and shots. It turns out that the witness must have bionic hearing because she lives over half a kilometre away; added to which, she reported incorrectly on the number of shots she heard. The police presented to court evidence of a testosterone liquid in Pistorius’ house. The defence have said that it is in fact a herbal product – perhaps this one. Already the police are starting to look as if their having made their minds up within hours about the charge (Pistorius was charged on the same day as the event I believe) has materially affected the evidence presented in the case.

The police may be correct. This may be murder, but it seems that they are going about their investigations with their hearts ruling their heads. Reeva Steenkamp and her family deserve better than this.

The key question that may dictate Oscar Pistorius’ innocence or guilt is whether it is murder if you shoot at someone unseen, albeit through a door, when you believe they are a stranger that has entered your home. Prosecutors may insist, self-defence or not, it was a murderous action. The only conclusion to draw in this immediate aftermath is that the case is a horrific example of how humans with almost instant access to guns can needlessly destroy lives.


Posted on February 20, 2013, in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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