Sunday, February 24, 2013

Self defense? Oscar Pistorius murder case

The shooter and victim are two high profile people in South Africa. The shooter is an athlete and the victim was a model. The killing took place in a gated community refuge from crime and from black people. This is South Africa where apartheid is not too far in the past. The case is tinged with racism, corrupt and bumbling police and, not surprising, high crime rates.

Certain facts are not in doubt - Pistorius shot and killed his model girlfriend in their residence. She was located in the bathroom toilet. He admits firing four shots through the toilet door. The prosecutors - premeditated murder. Pistorius - self defense believing that the person in the bathroom was an intruder.

The important facts will be ferreted out at the trial. As might be expected most of the media coverage has been more engaged in sensationalism rather than fact finding. I commend the Guardian UK' interactive depicting the crime scene. [Oscar Pistorius: Pretoria house where Reeva Steenkamp was killed - interactive].

The exact time of the shooting is unclear, but the police arrived at 4:15 am. The shooter claims he got up in the middle of the night and [see the interactive] went out to the balcony to the right of the bedroom to collect a fan. It is here on the balcony that he hears an intruder in the bathroom.

Why would any one suspect that there was an intruder was in the bathroom?

One must consider that the bedroom and bathroom is on the second floor. Consider too that the residence is in a community that "is protected by high walls, electric fencing, security guards, laser sensors, biometric “thumbprint” locks, all overseen by closed-circuit cameras." And, peek at the location of the residence within the community, hardly a place an intruder would seek out for any nefarious reason.

Why would an intruder 'hide' in the toilet? And if there - he or she would be cornered. Look at the interactive. The bathroom area is open with only the toilet having a door.

But assume an intruder in the bathroom for some reason. The shooter goes to the bed and gets his gun and proceeds to the bathroom toilet door and fires 4 shots. Why? There was no way out for the "intruder."  Surely if he would have called out to the 'intruder' she would have answered.

Assuming he heard an intruder - why didn't he alert his girlfriend who he 'believes' is still sleeping in the bed? The gun was hidden under the mattress. How could he have possibly missed the fact that she was not in the bed? How could he not be aware that it was his girlfriend in the toilet?

There are a host of spurious issues raised, but none so far raise any issue as to what might have motivated a legitimate self defense. Frankly, the death is quite easily explained as premeditated murder, but the bumbling of the police may set this man free. And, interestingly enough, South Africa criminal trials are before a judge - not a jury.

Here is a run at some of the issues that can be seen in the press coverage. ABC News' coverage offers insights into many of them  It doesn't appear that he called the police or instigated any calls to security, but the shooter "says he called the manager of the housing estate, and asked him to place a call for an ambulance. He says that he also called a private paramedic service. " But none of the four devices found by the police demonstrate that he called anyone; however, there is a mysterious fifth device claimed.

The locked toilet door. It is unclear if the toilet door was actually locked or not. If there was an intruder in the bathroom toilet - and why would the intruder be there  - why not call the police? The locked bathroom door gains some credibility because it was apparently beaten open with a cricket stick. But what kind of lock would it have been? That type of 'lock' is typically designed to deter entrance not prevent.

There is an issue of the apparent line of fire. The shooter is a double amputee and walks on blades that have to be strapped on. Thus his height is considerably different dependent on whether the 'legs' are strapped on or not. The issue is important because the police say he had the blades on and the shooter says not. If the police are correct - not only is the shooter lying it takes away from the urgency of the situation.

Why did he carry her body downstairs and not left upstairs in the bathroom where she was hit with three of the four shots?

It seems an uphill battle to prove self defense, but the crime was committed in a country far different from ours. Justice may well be influenced by the celebrity status of the shooter even though the victim too was a celebrity.

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