The Case of Oscar Pistorius: Can You Thread the Evidence Logically?

A photograph of Reeva Steenkamp from 2013.

You might well had made your mind up about Oscar Pistorius years ago. I would be surprised if anyone who was an adult back in 2013/14 has never heard of him. He was the golden boy of Olympic achievement not least of which because he had overcome serious disability to achieve glory. He was a darling of South Africa. All was going pretty good for him until the 14th February 2013. In the early hours he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The question was not if he shot her. He admitted that, the question was if it was intentional or not.

I respect the victim in this immensely. Reeva Steenkamp was not only stunningly beautiful but she was intelligent, well educated and talented. She was only 29 years old. The evidence was complex, the trials were prolonged in that there was so much controversy. I humbly suggest to you that this is a case where bias and logical ability are tested to the full. Assumption would get nowhere fast. So do you believe he murdered Reeva Steenkamp or do you believe it was just a horrible accident?

Brief Circumstances.

The two young people had been dating for 3 months. They moved in high circles among the young and well known of Pretoria, South Africa. Reeva was getting well known as a model and TV presenter. All the sources I have read state she was just about to become internationally recognised.

A photograph of Reeva Steenkamp from 2013.

 

Oscar Pistorius was 26 years old. You cannot miss a full bio of his achievements if you Google him. Basically he was born with a deformity that meant he could not walk. When he was eleven he had his legs amputated at a point above the ankle. He was from a well to do South African family so he had a lot of support. He was a natural at sport despite having to use prosthetics. He found fame from using blade style prosthetics which allowed him to run with amazing speed. He was dubbed ‘The Blade Runner.’ He competed in both the Paralympics and the Olympics.

Oscar Pistorius. Thanks to Wikicommons. The user is no longer registered. Click here for Wiki page

 

In the early hours of that Valentines Day morning you have Oscar and Reeva in bed at his home in a gated community called Silver Woods Country Estate. It was around 3 am.

The gates to the community in which Oscar Pistorius lived. Thanks to Google Maps

 

Controversy Over Text Messages

The couple displayed a lot of affection. Yet there were indications of problems as well. Several text messages from Ms Steenkamp to Pistorius indicated he had a temper. He would ‘snap’ at her in public and seemed sensitive to her relating any anecdotes from previous relationships. There was also evidence that he was texting flirtatiously with other women. I will say now that the evidence of them having a close and affectionate relationship was also overwhelming.

The Events

Oscar awoke and Reeva asked him if he could not sleep.  He got out of bed. It was later established that he did not put on his prosthetic legs. Apparently he could mobilise for a time on his own legs. The balcony doors were open and there were fans on the balcony. With the drapes open there was some moonlight and reflected light from the street. Pistorius says he brought the fans in and closed the drapes. This would have plunged the bedroom into complete darkness.

Pistorius said as he closed the drapes he thought he heard the bathroom window slide open.

His bedroom had a short corridor that led to a large ensuite bathroom. There were no doors between the bedroom and the bathroom. He says fear kicked in and he believed that a burglar had entered the house. He made his way around to the other side of the bed under which was a 9mm pistol.

He then shouted for Ms Steenkamp to call the police. He made his way to the bathroom without switching on any lights. Once there he heard a noise in the closed toilet cubicle. He fired four shots through the door.

He then returned to the bedroom. It was at that point it dawned on him that Reeva was not there and he said it was then that he first thought she may have been in the bathroom. He went to the toilet door but it was locked. Once again he returned to his bedroom

He put on his prosthetic legs and used a cricket bat to break a panel in the toilet door and there found Ms Steenkamp dead. She had been shot three times. One shot in the hip, one through her triceps area on her right arm and one in the head. Later in court the ballistics expert gave evidence that the hip shot was the first shot, the second shot missed, the third hit her arm and the fourth shot was the fatal head shot.

He did call out for help and contacted people immediately. Several witnesses said that they saw him and said he was inconsolable at having killed Ms Steenkamp. He asserted straight away that he thought it was a burglar.

Contrary Evidence

The houses are spacious and detached properties from what I can see. Certainly Pistorius’ house is a place set in its own plot. Guards patrol and the entrance is monitored to the estate.

Overhead Google Map shot of the house. I have put a marker on it.

 

Some witnesses said they heard a woman screaming before the shots. Others said they heard arguing for up to an hour before the shooting. The defence claimed that the ‘woman’ screaming was Pistorius after the shots when he realised his mistake. A great deal of argument was heard where it was claimed some of the witnesses could not have heard what they said they did due to distance.

The nearest neighbour, a doctor, said he was woken by gunshots and a woman screaming. He then went to the house and was one of the witnesses that described Pistorius’s state.

In various clips of the trial I did hear evidence that was emphatic that a woman screamed before the shots. The nearest neighbours overall concur with the view it was Pistorius screaming after the shots had been fired.

Ms Steenkamp and Her Situation in the Cubicle

Ms Steenkamp was found crumpled on the floor of the cubicle. Her head wound was devastating. She was wearing shorts and a vest top by the time witnesses arrived. Pathology said that she had emptied her bladder shortly before she died and ballistics demonstrated that she had been standing behind the toilet door as the first shot was fired.

In the bathroom, on the floor, were four mobile phones, 2 blackberry phones and 2 iPhones. Included in these was Ms Steenkamp’s phone.

 Windows, Guns and Terror of Crime

Pistorius claims that it was the sound of the bathroom window opening that first made him think there were intruders. In evidence it was said that he had a fear of crime.  In the past he had commented that even though there were guards on the estate that they could allow an attack. He had several guns and the fact that one was under his bed was normal for him.

His heightened state of awareness came from his vulnerability if he was not wearing his prosthetics.

To counter this is the undisputed fact that the balcony had been wide open that night. Also the evidence of Pistorius was that he heard what he thought was the bathroom window sliding open. He did not say he thought he heard it being forced. This suggests that the window was open to some extent already or at least unlocked.

In evidence he said when he went into the bathroom he saw the window open. He said as he pointed at the door he wondered if someone might come through the window from a ladder. So for certain the balcony was open and vulnerable to a ladder being used. From the same evidence it is reasonable to believe the rear bathroom window was insecure. It is hard to balance that against this fear of crime as it means he could go to sleep knowing of the risk.

In a previous incident in a restaurant Pistorius had accidentally discharged a pistol into the floor. He had been looking at it after a friend passed it to him.  The reason this was brought up was to illustrate he was reckless with firearms I guess. This is further supported by another incident where he had fired a gun through the sun roof of a car. He certainly had a fondness for them. I have to say so do I. I am familiar with a range of guns and how to safely use them. I would never in my wildest dreams do either of the things he did.

The Judicial Process

He stood trial and was convicted of Manslaughter and given a very light sentence. The idea was that they believed he had just not noticed Reeva was not in bed after he shut the drapes. I have seen tests on the layout of the bedroom and it would be hard to see her.

So his shooting, the decision stated, of Reeva was an accident. However, when he fired into the door without knowing who was there or if there was a threat, he was reckless as to whether someone could be injured or die.

The public of the world and the prosecution were not happy with that. There was an appeal and finally he was convicted of homicide and given 15 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2023.

My Take

What do you think? Was it manslaughter or murder?

I saw the reconstructions in the press. I agree that it is possible to turn and think Ms Steenkamp was in the bed after closing the drapes. There was enough light outside to mean you would take awhile to adjust to the darkness and until then details would be missed. The thing is Pistorius said he told Ms Steenkamp to get low and call the police. After getting no reply or even a sound from her is it credible he went on to assume she was there in bed?

I totally accept it is possible to then think that any noise in the toilet cubicle was an intruder. I personally would care little if some burglar had been shot in this way. I accept to some degree the fear factor, but if you are so afraid you do  leave windows insecure, especially if one of your first thoughts is a ladder might be used?

So I cannot accept that as some driving, extra, factor that Pistorius had.

I have a problem with the locked cubicle door. Picture it. You have a partner in bed, staying over night. They go to the toilet, this is an ensuite toilet. There is only the two of you in the house. You are in an intimate relationship. Would they lock the door just to pass water? Pistorius said he later assumed she had frozen with fear and simply locked the door to the toilet. However, is it credible she would do so leaving the phone she had been asked to use to call for help outside and she did not communicate the fact to Pistorius?

Possible but unlikely.

The ballistics stated she was wearing her shorts and a vest top. In the same scenario as we have just gone through…Would your partner get dressed to go to the toilet?  Also if they did that it blows a hole in the story that she slipped out of bed in the time it took him to bring in a couple of fans and close the drapes. Ms Steenkamp gets up and is dressing. How does he miss all of that?

If that did not happen then she was already dressed for some reason. You get dressed to go out…This supports the argument and anger shooting aspect.

Finally, why would she have her phone with her in the bathroom and it be on the floor? You don’t get up to the toilet dressed and with your phone at 3 am in a loving, intimate relationship.

One of the factors I have just gone through mean little. All of them together suggest she was leaving, became scared, locked herself in the toilet and died there.

I agree that the significance of the loving texts should not have been wiped out by the texts that showed some problems. What I do say is the evidence backs up the concerning texts.

One of those that Ms Steenkamp sent Pistorius said she was sometimes scared of him. It turns out she was right to be.

Cheers

Take care

Tim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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