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O.J. In Pretoria?

[ 126 ] February 21, 2013 |

As most of you know, Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend.   His explanation — that he fired 4 shots though a closed bathroom door because he thought there was in intruder behind it — is both 1)implausible in the extreme (sure, whenever I hear someone in a bathroom with the door closed in a house I share with someone, I just assume it’s an intruder stealing my toenail clippers and toilet bowl cleaner, and start firing bullets) and 2)not particularly exculpatory even if true (when you make no effort to ascertain the person you’re shooting at isn’t your partner and it turns out to be your partner, that you thought it was an intruder with no basis at best would seem to make it second rather than first degree murder.)

And, yet, because the investigation appears to have been heavily botched by a lead investigator who is “facing seven charges of attempted murder himself,” he may well get away with it.


Comments (126)

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  1. ploeg says:

    Highly unlikely that Pistorius gets away with anything. It’s ridiculous to say that the defense is punching holes in the case when everybody agrees that Pistorius shot his girlfriend through the bathroom door. The only dispute is whether it was justified, and it’s clearly not.

    This guy is the only one to get away with anything in this case.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      The only dispute is whether it was justified, and it’s clearly not.

      The original lead investigator reckons that shooting blindly at people is justified when it’s a matter of the multiple charges he’s facing.

    • R. Porrofatto says:

      Small point of clarity here: he didn’t shoot through the bathroom door. He was already in the bathroom and shot through the door of the separately enclosed toilet. (Details here)

      His story sounds hardly credible, and even his carefully worded (and apparently lawyerly crafted) affidavit smells very fishy. For example, one minute he’s competently mobile without his artificial legs, removing a fan from the balcony, and the next he’s in pulling a trigger out of fear for his life because of legless immobility, and so on. If he’s telling the truth then he joins the ranks of our own trigger-happy gun nuts, piss-soaked cowards who reflexively shoot the bogeymen in their heads before noticing who the bullets are actually killing.

      • poco says:

        That Guardian link is very good. Thanks.

      • Richard says:

        So was the door glass or wood?

        • Richard says:

          Also, when he is walking without the blades, does he use crutches?

          • JohnTh says:

            Having met Oscar Pistorius (who, as most people seem to agree, comes across as a great guy in public situations – courteous and self-deprecating) I can report that he normally walks on more standard prosthetic legs – when he’s wearing pants and shoes you can’t tell his lower legs are missing, other than in a slight stiffness in his walk – he definitely had no crutches when I met him. His blades are for sport only (hence the dispute a few years ago that they constituted artificial aids rather than an accomodation for disability).

            • Richard says:

              He says he did not have on his blades when he fired the shots. Does that mean he was wearing normal prosthetic legs or no prosthetics at all (and, if the latter, I’m assuming he needs crutches to walk?).

              • elm says:

                I read somewhere that he walked on the stumps of his legs (the articles words, not mine.) I’ve seen people without legs do this before, so crutches may not have been necessary even if he wasn’t wearing any prothesis.

                • Richard says:

                  That makes sense (and also explains why a forensic report about the angle of the shots may shed light on whether he was using prosthetic legs or not when the shots were fired)

      • mpowell says:

        His story sounds pretty fishy to me, but artificial legs that can help you remove a fan from a balcony are a totally different thing than dealing with a dangerous intruder. It is plausible that you would have enough mobility to do the former but also be significantly more fearful than an able bodied person in the latter case.

    • Richard says:

      The defense is arguing that the crime at most is negligent homicide which appears to not require jail time in South Africa. Since he’s been granted bail, defense counsel did exactly what they hoped to do and has convinced a judge that, at least at this stage, there is insufficient evidence of premeditated murder.

      • Richard says:

        Turns out that South Africa doesn’t have first and second degree murder and manslaughter. They have premeditated murder (where the sentence is 25 years but can be more or less if there is a showing of exceptional circumstances) and culpable homicide (where there is no minimum but a maximum of 25 years). So its very possible that Pistorious walks or is given almost no time in jail if his story is believed.

        Also there are no jury trials in South Africa. Either a single judge or a judge assisted by two layman try criminal cases.

  2. Kurzleg says:

    I thought I’d heard that there was also a bloodied cricket bat and physical evidence of a beating on top of the gunshots. Or was that misreported?

    • ploeg says:

      There might have been a cricket bat taken during the investigation, but Steenkamp was not beaten before the shooting.

    • Richard says:

      Absolutely no physical evidence of beating. There was a cricket bat – he claims he got it to smash open the bathroom door after he realized he may have shot his girlfriend. Prosecution claims there was blood on the bat but, as far as I know, no forensic report yet on the bat. A little bit of blood on the bat may be compatible with the story Pistorious is telling.

      I agree with Scott that the story is implausible but dont know enough about South African law to opine whether he’s liable for second degree murder if the story is believed.

      • howard says:

        somewhere over the past few days, when i’ve been traveling, i came across a discussion of south african murder conviction rates, and for a number of reasons, it’s extremely low. if i have time later, i’ll try to track the reference down.

      • commie atheist says:

        Why would you lock the door of the bathroom when you wake up in the middle of the night to pee, and the only other person in the house is your boyfriend?

    • janastas359 says:

      I heard something similar – and that Steenkamp’s skull was crushed.

    • Jon Hendry says:

      Some newspaper reported that, but it was clearly just a rumor.

      Had there been evidence of a beating, I’m sure they would have mentioned that during the bail hearing.

      The cricket bat may have had blood on it, but if it was used to bash open the door to the toilet stall after the shooting, I would think there’d have been plenty of blood around. If he dropped the cricket bat after breaking the door down, it could have been bloodied by landing in blood on the floor.

      If Steenkamp was shot in the head, someone might have seen the blood-matted hair and leapt to conclusions.

  3. cpinva says:

    part of the story left out, per the bail hearing:

    1. SA is apparently (per the media) quite a dangerous country, with home intrusions less common than before, but still a possibility.

    2. the bathroom has an unblocked window, so i suppose it’s conceivable, if someone made it into the heavily gated community, they could have broken in through the bathroom window.

    that said, who starts blasting away, through a closed, inside door, without first checking to find out who might be on the other side first?

    3. defense counsel seems to have at least slightly shredded the lead detective on the case, along with the statement of an “ear” witness who, from 600 meters (2,000 feet) away, claims to have heard arguing, prior to the shooting. it turns out, she only heard one voice, and couldn’t actually tell who’s it was.

    at present, no forensic evidence supporting the state’s case has been presented in court, during the bail hearing. sure, he did it, but it was dark, he couldn’t see (except to find his gun), it might have been a burglar. heck, this could happen to anyone!

    • Anonymous says:

      Did the prosecution bring the ear witness into play or was this a media thing? I would hope the prosecution wouldn’t enter this sort of evidence.

      • Richard says:

        Prosecution did it. The officer testified he heard from neighbors who heard shouting. Neighbor was 2000 feet away (although the officer than said she may have only been 1000 feet away)

        Its sort of a weird hearing. A two day evidentiary hearing regarding bail to see if there is sufficient evidence of premeditated murder. If there is, bail is always denied. Prosecution tried to put in a bunch of suspect evidence. Cop testifed that there were PEDs in the apartment but then admitted that he really hadn’t read the labels on the bottles and that they could have been legal organic supplements.

    • Richard says:

      They’re still waiting to get forensic evidence back – mainly reports on the trajectory of the bullets. That could be very important since he claims he was not wearing his blades when he shot through the door and the police believe that the trajectory of the bullets will show that he was wearing them.

    • Jon Hendry says:

      Also the “ear” witness was supposed to have heard six shots, when only four were fired.

    • STH says:

      I don’t understand why, when he say he’s so fearful of burglars, the window was open and there was a ladder left up against the building. His story makes no sense.

  4. rea says:

    If this had happened in the US–well, I could easily imagine one of our domestic gun nuts shooting a family member through a locked bathroom door under the impression he was dealing with a burglar.

  5. Seitz says:

    On a related note

    PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA—Over a week after Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius’ arrest for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, the burglar hiding inside the sprinter’s shower decided that now was probably his best chance to make his getaway from the residence. “Well, I guess the coast is finally clear,” said the 35-year-old robber…

  6. Josh G. says:

    Don’t these kind of accidental shootings happen all the time in the US? If I recall correctly, someone who buys a gun for personal protection is substantially more likely to mistake a family member for an intruder and shoot them.

    • Jon Hendry says:

      Yes. And apparently there have been a few times when he has grabbed his gun to investigate things that turned out to be nothing.

      And he goes to the shooting range some times when he can’t sleep.

  7. Aloysius says:

    Some years ago, I took a course on self-defense and gun safety as part of a journalistic assignment. The instructor taught exactly how to respond to the intruder in the night fear. One person takes the shotgun, and the first thing that person does is a bed check.

    One week later, there was a big commotion downstairs at 3 AM in our less than perfectly safe neighborhood.

    A bed check revealed two teenaged boys missing. Apparently, they’d left the back door open when they’d slipped out to howl at the moon under a maiden’s window. Several beagles had accepted the invitation and were playing chase all over the house.

    Slipping back into the yard, the lads heard me chunking shells out of the shotgun, decided there must be a home invasion burglary in progress, and fled headlong into the night. Police stopped them running pell mell down the street and brought them home.

  8. commie atheist says:

    Haven’t been following this case too closely, but I seem to recall that there were reports of Pistorius having been accused of domestic violence in the past (not sure if it was with this girlfriend or a previous one), but none of the stories I’ve read lately have mentioned this.

  9. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    The only answer for Bad Paralympians with Guns is Good Paralympians with Guns!

  10. mark f says:

    I understand midnight diarrhea happens.

    I also understand the need to defend oneself.

    What I don’t understand is the liberal position that Paralympians shouldn’t have the right to defend themselves from people with midnight diarrhea.

  11. Daragh McDowell says:

    While I agree the overall story is improbable, I’m also not a disabled man, high profile, wealthy man living in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

  12. bargal20 says:

    I’m still shaking my head at the idea of a lead investigator who’s facing 7 charges of attempted murder. Either they’re severely shorthanded in that city, or they’ve got a hell of a police union.

  13. I took the headline to have a different meaning because I am already long past my tolerance for this story eating up airtime, especially on BBC World Service. This thing about the cop has been the lead story all day, and is currently above the bombing in Damascus (32 dead), two bombs in Hyderabad (12 dead, so far), Iran crowing about centrifuges, and that soccer match fixing guy with (but apparently not arrested yet) by the Singapore police, all of which are of far more consequence to far more people than whether or not Pistorius goes to prison for this.

    The irony is that the other night they read a comment from someone in Africa that went something like this:

    Please BBC, there are many more important stories in Africa you could be covering besides Pistorius.

    Then the BBC host said something like, “Well, there certainly seems to be a lot of news interest in Pistorius” and went right back to godawful O.J. style coverage. It was as awful as anything CNN has ever done.

  14. David Hunt says:

    I believe that I heard a news report saying that his girlfriend did not live with him but was simply sleeping there that night. I don’t think that this invalidates anything that you wrote as I’d have to learn that Oscar Pistorius had some strange sleep disorder before I’d be likely to consider giving his preposterous story much credence.

  15. pete says:

    From a fairly well-placed South African friend:

    In the court of public opinion he is already down and out. His explanation is very difficult to accept as being anywhere near the truth. There is a further problem in that recent amendments to the law make him guilty of both reckless endangerment, culpable homicide, and possibly murder: you or another person have to be in clear and imminent danger of death or serious injury before you can lawfully discharge a firearm. Firing through a locked door gives you no reason to shoot in law.

    The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that he is apparently a thoroughly obnoxious person – there have been previous accusations of violence against women, drunk in charge of a speedboat, and similar brattish behaviour. The brattishness and sense of entitlement encapsulated in his rant against the Brazilian who beat him in the men’s final at the London Olympics.

    His defence team is doing very well in throwing up mountains of dust in his bail application, but whether it will secure his release prior to the trial remains to be seen; and whether his guilt will fail to be proven is also moot.

    • pete says:

      You gotta like that “clear and imminent danger” clause. This is all I know about it.

    • Richard says:

      There will be a decision on bail tomorrow. From what I’ve read about the hearing, I wont be surprised if he is granted bail.

      It does appear, though, that some of the early press reports were wrong. One said that the police had been called to the apartment earlier in the evening because of a domestic disturbance. No evidence of that was provided at the hearing (and surely would have been if it had occurred). Also the accounts of prior violence against women turns out to be a single accusation of slamming a door after a verbal altercation with a girlfriend with no charges being brought.

      His story, of course, is very improbable. However, the idea that he would have a verbal fight with his girlfriend, that she would lock herself in the bathroom and that he would then go get his gun and shoot at her four times through the bathroom door is pretty weird as well.

      • catclub says:

        “pretty weird as well.”

        ‘roid rage?

      • Ed says:

        However, the idea that he would have a verbal fight with his girlfriend, that she would lock herself in the bathroom and that he would then go get his gun and shoot at her four times through the bathroom door is pretty weird as well.

        Why? Pistorius seems to have a rather low boiling point. That doesn’t make him capable of murder, but it’s easy to imagine the fight intensifying in tension and Steenkamp sensing something that made her sufficiently frightened to try to get away from him. And her “gun enthusiast” boyfriend just happens to have a weapon handy. It could be that he’s just homicidally irresponsible and stupid, but I doubt it. We’ll know more soon, obviously, and the media is plainly ready to share it with us.

        • Richard says:

          I’m not saying it didn’t happen (and it seems less weird than the intruder explanation he is offering). But even if he is a high strung guy and she got nervous and locked herself in the bathroom, how many times are murders committed by shooting at someone through a wooden door? Its a very strange way to commit murder.

          • sparks says:

            I think you have insufficient imagination and/or have never seen someone in a fit of rage.

            • Richard says:

              I will confess that I have never seen anyone fire a gun in a fit of rage at another person, either through a door or not.

              But I can’t recall a murder case I’ve read about where the murderer fired through a door to kill his victim. I’m sure it has happened but I can’t remember any

              As I said above, I’m not saying its impossible and I’m not denying that this is what happened, only stating that this is a pretty weird and fairly unusual scenario.

        • cpinva says:

          apparently, he slept with the gun under his bed:

          “And her “gun enthusiast” boyfriend just happens to have a weapon handy.”

      • Jon Hendry says:

        ” a single accusation of slamming a door after a verbal altercation with a girlfriend with no charges being brought.”

        Well, a girl. Not sure if it was a girlfriend, or, as I saw her described, a girl who wouldn’t leave his party.

    • Bill Murray says:

      he also had some illegal ammunition IIRC

      • Richard says:

        He had some .38 ammunition but no permit for a .38 so the ammunition was illegal under South African law. Not sure that this says much about anything. He didn’t use a .38 to shoot the bullets that killed her.

        • cpinva says:

          according to reports, the .38 ammunition belonged to his father, but was, for some unspecified reason, being kept at pistorios’ house.

          “He had some .38 ammunition but no permit for a .38 so the ammunition was illegal under South African law.”

          • Jon Hendry says:

            A NY Times story last year said that he didn’t have much to do with his father, who lives in another part of the country and owns a mine. (Pistorius’s mother died years ago and his parents were divorced.)

            So it’s a little odd that he had his father’s bullets. Unless maybe they bond by shooting together at the local range.

            • cpinva says:

              people have bonded in weirder ways.

              “Unless maybe they bond by shooting together at the local range.”

              frankly, the whole thing is weird. aside from him being a physically disabled runner, who uses the “blades”, i don’t know that much about the guy, and probably never would have, absent this tragedy. his gf, from all i’ve read, was not only a hottie, but a genuinely nice person. both families seem to be in shock over the whole thing, which i can’t blame them.

            • ecurb says:

              Or just, you know, ended up with it somehow.
              I have some 22LR ammunition (probably ejected duds) laying around that I picked up while doing trash pickup at a local shooting site.

              It’s insane that I could go to prison for that in some countries. But there’s plenty of people who want “ammunition control” laws like that here.

    • ploeg says:

      Question: is it the case that they deny bail in SA only if the charge is premeditated murder? ‘Cause that would explain the charge (which is the only part of the case against Pistorius that seems remotely bogus).

  16. Loud Liberal says:

    If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

  17. Jon Hendry says:

    Pistorius had a boat accident in 2008: “In 2008, Pistorius crashed his boat into a submerged pier on a river south of Johannesburg. His face and body hit the steering wheel, and he broke two ribs, his jaw and an eye socket. Doctors had to sew 172 stitches in his face.”

    I wonder if that left him with any subtle frontal lobe damage that could have contributed to his paranoia or poor judgement.

  18. Dave says:

    Hopefully he will get bail, go home, and shoot himself, and then we can all move on.

    It’s a shame he turned out to be an asshole, but that’s what you get sometimes when you make heroes of people for being good at something self-centred.

    • cpinva says:

      it’s the danger of making people heroes, period. they all have feet of clay, and are destined to disappoint.

      “It’s a shame he turned out to be an asshole, but that’s what you get sometimes when you make heroes of people for being good at something self-centred.”

      • Ed says:

        Heroes do exist. I would say this is more an illustration of the dangers of sports “journalism.” Regardless of the verdict here, Pistorius seems always to have been a reckless jerk, but any incidents illustrating that were downplayed or ignored in the inspirational stuff.

  19. psh says:

    There are two claims that were reported upon early in this story that I have not heard since. Can anybody comment on:

    1. Whether or not one of the shots that was fired was not fired at the interior toilet room but was, instead, fired in the bedroom or hallway? I heard that claim several times in the first days of the story but suspect that it was inaccurate based upon subsequent reporting.

    2. Pistorius “accidentally” discharged a pistol at a restaurant just a couple of weeks before Steenkamp’s death. This, I am very curious about.

    • Richard says:

      As far as 1 goes, I think thats not true. It appears that the police only retrieved three bullet casings which may have led to the idea that one bullet was fired somewhere else. But the other bullet casing was found by defense counsel, after being allowed access to the residence, in the toilet bowl.

      I read something about 2 but nothing about it was introduced at the bail hearing and it may be a phony tabloid story

      • psh says:

        A casing found in the toilet bowl?? How in the world would it get there? I presume either someone tried to get rid of it or one shot was fired from inside the toilet room then? If the latter is the case, Pistorius is cooked no matter how incompetent the prosecution is.

        • Richard says:

          I may have got that wrong. Maybe it was one bullet, not casing, that was found in the toilet bowl. Knowing next to nothing about firearms, I dont read all gun stuff accurately.

          • Richard says:

            According to the Guardian, it was a “spent bullet cartridge” that defense counsel found in the toilet bowl. Defense counsel introduced this fact at the bail hearing to show that the cops had done a lousy job of crime scene investigation.

            • psh says:

              I’m no munitions expert, either. But I would assume that a cartridge is the casing that holds the bullet. If one was found in the toilet, it would suggest to me that someone tried to dispose of it or that it was ejected from the gun in the toilet room, further suggesting that at least one shot was fired inside that room. I wonder if this will become a point of contention. This case is well on its way to taking the form of a bad cable TV movie script.

              • Richard says:

                It doesn’t appear that the prosecution argued that a cartridge found in the toilet bowl makes it likely that a shot was fired from inside the toilet room or that there was an attempt to dispose of evidence. Not sure why they wouldn’t have made the argument but maybe its the case that it was the bullet itself that was found in the bowl, not the casing or cartridge.

              • Jon H says:

                “If one was found in the toilet, it would suggest to me that someone tried to dispose of it or that it was ejected from the gun in the toilet room, further suggesting that at least one shot was fired inside that room.”

                If it was brass, it might have landed in Pistorius’ clothing, if he was wearing any, and fallen out after he broke open the door and entered. Brass goes all over the place. I’ve heard of a guy shooting his pistol at the range and having his gun eject a cartridge into his own mouth.

                • ecurb says:

                  Back when I had a ‘fro, I once came home with a spent cartridge sitting in my hair. No idea how it ended up there, but it fell out in the shower.

                  I agree that this whole story sounds fishy, but I hate to speculate, but…
                  Even if it was an accident, he violated basic firearm safety in a criminally negligent manner. It’s just a matter of finding out what he’s guilty of.

          • Jon H says:

            I read that she was hit by three bullets, out of the four that were fired. The fourth might well have fallen into the toilet after hitting the stone or tile wall.

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