Oscar Pistorious shot Reeva Steenkamp. He shot, repeatedly, until she was dead. That the South African “Blade Runner” – who has competed in both Paralympic and Olympic games – is responsible for his girlfriend’s death is not debated.
Whether he did it on purpose is.
Pistorious claims that he accidentally shot Steenkamp after she went to the toilet whilst he was bringing in furniture from their balcony. When he returned from the balcony and heard noises in the bathroom, he automatically assumed that the noises were caused by an intruder. He also assumed that the intruder was enough of a danger to him to justify picking up the gun he reportedly stashed under his bed. Without warning he fired through the bathroom door until he was sure the ‘intruder’ was dead.
What Pistorious claims he did not know until it was too late was that the noises in the bathroom were in fact made by his girlfriend, who Pistorious claims had gotten out of bed whilst he was outside.
Pistorious’ argument centres on the danger of living in South Africa. The murder rate in South Africa is so high that on average one in 3300 citizens – or around 15,000 people -will be murdered every year (by comparison, Australia had only 260 murder victims in 2007). According to The Economist, however, South Africa’s homicide rate has fallen by over a third since 2006 – meaning that South Africa is becoming a safer place to live, particularly for rich white men in gated communities such as the one that Oscar Pistorious lived in.
But Pistorious’ defence keeps changing – by Day 22 of the still-ongoing trial, he appeared to be moving away from the “self-defence” line and towards the argument that he had shot Steenkamp as the result of an “involuntary action”. The “involuntary action” defence is usually applied where, for example, a driver ran over a pedestrian due to having an epileptic fit behind the wheel of a car, not where the defendant picked up a loaded weapon and pointed it at somebody.
The prosecution is arguing that Pistorious did it on purpose. They have put forward a case which argues that Pistorious and Steenkamp were fighting on the night of her death, and that Pistorious shot her from three metres away through the toilet door. This argument relies on text messages which indicate that Steenkamp was scared of Pistorious’ anger, and statements from ex-girlfriends discussing incidents including one where Pistorious shot a gun out of the roof of his car in anger at the South African police.
Essentially, the prosecution is trying to paint the picture of an angry young man who threw one too many temper tantrums- and it makes compelling viewing. South African pay TV has already launched a 24-hour news station, ESPN3 in the US has been dedicated to providing updates on the trial and even the BBC is getting on the documentary-producing bandwagon.
Pistorious has broken down crying most days in court, to the point where the sitting has been adjourned. He has thrown up when recounting his version of events. He has apologised to Steenkamp’s family and screamed at the judge.
This is the story of the darling of a nation, a boy born with a disability who triumphed through the odds to compete against not only his peers but against people far more able-bodied than him, who went on to date models and live a charmed life. It is the typical underdog story that captures the minds of every person who feels like they’ve been given the shit end of life’s stick.
It’s classic soap opera stuff. Home and Away eat your heart out.
In the soap opera, Pistorious wouldn’t go to jail, Steenkamp would rise from the dead and they would all live happily ever after. Or Pistorious’ long lost twin brother would be revealed as the real killer, dramatically being dragged into the courtroom whilst screaming about his vengeful plan to wreck Oscar’s life.
But this isn’t a soap opera, this is reality. And reality is that according to many legal commentators, Pistorious’ dramatic displays of emotion are merely covers for his constantly changing story.
What we are watching is a man reliving the moment he ruined his life by ending another’s. Whether wealth, sporting prowess and celebrity are enough to get Pistorious off the hook – like a South African OJ Simpson- is yet to be seen. What we do know for sure is that he can’t run from what he’s done forever.