Features Gender

Pistorius case: A miscarriage of justice

GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
WHATEVER the case – whether in earnest, guilt or not guilt for murder – South African athlete Oscar Pistorius is a lucky man.
Whether his fate be a matter of luck or his ability to hire some of the best legal minds, Pistorius must be happy to have been acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Though we are not allowed to condemn an accused person until proven guilty in a court of law, the unfolding of events during trial indicated that it was going to be difficult for Pistorius to escape the guilty verdict.
And the matter generated widespread interest beyond the borders of South Africa because cases of murder between intimate partners are quite common everywhere.
In Zambia for instance, we have numerous cases of murder/attempted murder between husband and wife or boyfriend vs girlfriend or simply gender-based violence (GBV).
The scourge of GBV resulting into serious maim is proving to be a serious social problem of our time.
Naturally, having a celebrity of Pistorius’ standing accused of murdering his girlfriend, the outcome of the case was going to stir public opinion because these cases are widespread.
Somehow, some people predicted the not guilty verdict (for murder) of the case because it is difficult to prove murder ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ especially in a situation where the accused and victim were alone at the time of the incident.
Whether or not the killing was premeditated, the fact that Pistorius admitted to the accidental killing of Reeva and made efforts to help her live, made it tough for the prosecution to prove their case.
We cannot completely overrule the possibility of a genuine accidental killing, as much as it is difficult, under the circumstances, to believe that the blade-runner mistook Reeva for an intruder.
Anyhow a court of law does not thrive on circumstantial evidence alone.
Therefore the prosecution needed to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that Pistorius and Reeva did quarrel that fateful day, prompting the disgraced athlete to turn his weapon on his girlfriend through a locked toilet door.
Unfortunately the trial judge, Thokozile Masipa, threw away the evidence of neighbours as unreliable.
Neighbours, who were the closest witnesses in this matter didn’t help matters as they gave conflicting statements depending on which side they were.
For example, neighbours who spoke for the prosecution only heard a woman screaming on the night of Reeva’s shooting.
On the other hand, the neighbours that were called in by the defence, only heard Pistorius crying, probably on realisation that he had shot his girlfriend. And this gave credence to Pistorius’ claim that Reeva never reacted when she took in three of the four gun shots.
It was quite strange that neighbours heard different sounds from one particular incident. To me this just showed desperation by either party to win the case at whatever cost.
Surprisingly so, Judge Masipa dismissed the evidence of  neighbours as unreliable but rather opted to depend on the record of phone calls which she said ‘tipped in favour’ of the accused.
To cut the long story short, Judge Masipa cleared the athlete of murder charges on account that the prosecution failed to prove that he was guilty of intentional killing.
She was convinced Pistorius killed Reeva by accident on assumption that she was an intruder. The judge believed the athlete, who was tearful during trial, was traumatised by the death of the woman he loved. However, she found him guilty of culpable (blame-worthy) homicide or manslaughter which carries a maximum of 15 years jail sentence. The judge also has a choice to impose a fine or suspended sentence.
Although I do not quite agree with Judge Masipa’s verdict, I feel the fact that there was no witness in the fateful house, made it easier for Pistorius to tailor evidence in his favour.
It seems the act of calling the police when Reeva was dying and a tearful face during trial worked well for Pistorius.
Certainly, the tears were not in vain as the trial judge pointed out that the accused was traumatised by the death of the woman he loved.
My only fear with the apparent tailored testimony in the Pistorius case is that it gives people an idea of what to say if they shoot their partners dead without witnesses.
The case has set a precedent for future murder accused persons, be it male of female – to water down a murder charge to manslaughter.
There are just a few things that make me feel that Pistorius had tailored his version of what happened on that fateful day.
First of all, I have been wondering why Reeva did not react when Pistorius called her name, asking her to call the police because there was an intruder in the house.
Looking at the sketch of the fateful house, Reeva was not far not to hear a distress call from her boyfriend who was screaming.
Obviously Pistorius was breathless when he called out to Reeva, but surprisingly the woman, who had a phone with her in the toilet, made no attempt to call police? What was she scared of?
Then considering the odd hour (03:00 hours) at which she was shot, why did Reeva, carry her cell phone to the toilet?
Why did she lock the toilet door in the middle of the night when her boyfriend was fast asleep, knowing that there were just the two of them in the house.
I have also been wondering why Pistorius was quick to shoot at the ‘intruder’ without caring to check on the whereabouts or safety of his girlfriend?
Is it possible to assume there is someone sleeping under an empty and not so inflated duvet?
Actual photos taken on the crime scene showed that the duvet and a pair of Reeva’s jeans were on the floor of the bedroom. The defence though claimed, police tampered with the crime scene.
My other question is, did Reeva, really not react (scream), at any point, when she was shot at?
Mind you, she took in three of the four gunshots and from what we are told by expert analysis, she cowed (covered her head with her hands) on the last two shots. She was standing right in front of the locked door when the first shot went through her hip. And from what experts said, the cowing was an expression of fear.
I was utterly surprised that the trial judge did not see this as murder.
eshonga@daily-mail.co.zm/emeldashonga@yahoo.com. Phone 0211- 227793/221364.

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