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Late Night: Whither Thou Goest Oscar Pistorius


3 dimensional walk-through of Pistorius bedroom/bathroom

Tomorrow morning at 3:30 am EDT, Judge Thokozile Masipa will announce her decision in the Oscar Pistorius case. He is the famous disabled South African paralympian known as the Blade Runner. An audience of millions will be watching.

Both legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old because he was born with detached fibia and tibula bones. He competed by wearing a curved metal prosthesis that functioned like a spring permitting him to compete against the fastest sprinters in the world. He won a gold medal in the 100 meter sprint at the paralympics and barely missed qualifying for the 100 meter final in the Olympics.

Pistorius is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, by shooting her to death through the locked door of the toilet cubicle that is next to the bathroom in his upstairs master bedroom suite.

His home was located in a gated community protected by a 24/7 security staff.

Steenkamp was a lawyer, model and actor who was on the verge of international fame and fortune with her role in a South African reality show.

They were a beautiful couple supposedly involved in a fairytale romance that ended with four gunshots through a locked toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius testified at trial that after he and Steenkamp went to bed around 10 pm, he was awakened around 3:30 am by the sound of the bathroom window opening. He said he thought that an intruder had entered the bathroom by climbing a ladder. He grabbed his gun and without putting on his regular everyday prosthesis he proceeded down a short hallway on his stumps to the entrance to the bathroom. After hearing a sound like someone bumped the magazine rack in the toilet stall, he fired his gun four times through the door.

When he returned to the bedroom, he discovered that Steenkamp was not in bed and only then realized that she might have been in the toilet stall.

Steenkamp was hit three times. First, in the hip. Second in the arm and chest. Third, in the forehead. He was using an especially deadly form of ammunition that releases little metal hooks tucked into the side of the bullet that pop out as the bullet spins out of the muzzle of the gun.

She could not have survived the wounds to her hip and head.

The prosecution’s theory of the case was that she locked herself in the toilet stall with her cell phone during an argument with Pistorius. He lost his temper and shot her to death through the locked door.

Several neighbors, including a woman who lived next door, testified that they heard loud voices and a woman’s terrified screams followed by four shots. She said she awakened to the screams and looked out her bedroom window at Pistorius’s bathroom window and noticed that the light was on.

He testified that it was off when he fired the shots. Like George Zimmerman before him, he claimed that the neighbor heard him screaming, not Steencamp.

He claimed she never said anything and he admitted that he did not call out to her to make sure she was not in the toilet before he fired his gun.

The medical examiner testified that Steencamp had consumed a stir fry meal approximately an hour and a half before the shooting, based on an analysis of her stomach contents.

I will always remember this trial for the savage cross examination of Pistorius by the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, and the sudden switch from self-defense by defense counsel, Barry Roux, to a pervasive state-of-anxiety-caused-by-my-disability made me overreact.

This mid-stream switch resulted in a 30-day commitment for a thorough mental health examination by three psychiatrists who unanimously concluded that he did not suffer from a general anxiety disorder.

Oh, well. The show must go on.

With the facts and law against him, Barry Roux reanimated the defense delivering an excellent poor-Oscar closing argument that just might carry the day.

But I wouldn’t advise betting the ranch that Pistorius will be acquitted.

The law of self-defense is clear. To justifiably use deadly force in self-defense, Pistorius must have reasonably believed himself to be in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

Self-defense will not fly, if Judge Masipa concludes that Pistorius knew Steencamp was in the toilet stall. If she rejects self-defense, she can find him guilty of premeditated murder, in which case he is looking at a minimum of 25 years in prison, or she can find him guilty of intentional murder (i.e., intentional but not premeditated) which has a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison.

Premeditation requires proof of intent to kill, reflection on the decision to kill, and an affirmation to go ahead and do it. Actual reflection on the decision to kill, rather than the passage of time, is what distinguishes premeditation from an intentional killing. So called heat-of-passion killings are usually intentional, but not premeditated, because the decision to kill merges with and is inseparable from the killing.

Even if Judge Masipa decides that he believed he was shooting at an intruder, self-defense is unlikely to fly because the intruder was behind a locked door. Like Theodore Wafer, Pistorius was not in any danger, unless the intruder opened the door.

She might find him guilty of culpable homicide, if she decides that he acted negligently in self-defense, but without intent to kill. She could then sentence him up to a maximum of 15 years in prison. This is probably the best outcome he can reasonably expect, since an acquittal is unlikely.

Last, but certainly not least, Pistorius is also charged with shooting a gun under the table in a crowded restaurant and shooting a gun out of the open sunroof of his vehicle while motoring down the roadway.

These shooting incidents and his refusal to accept responsibility for shooting the guns, as if they went off by themselves while he was holding them, evidence a reckless young man with a gun fetish who refuses to accept responsibility for his acts.

Those two acts form a menacing background for the Valentine’s Day shooting.

I am planning on staying up late tonight to watch Judge Masipa deliver her opinion.

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