Pistorius judge rules out murder charges

Although the court has now adjourned for the day, it seems as though Pistorius will be found guilty of culpable homicide. Many seem outraged and surprised by the decision not to find him guilty of murder – with accusations of bribery flying around.  Here’s a calmer response

I have no idea whether #Pistorius was guilty of murder, but I do know that I don’t outrank a South African judge in this matter.

Yesterday I saw a poll which suggested that 9/10 people believed Pistorius would be convicted of murder. It seems likely that media coverage has something to do with this discrepancy between the expectation and the reality.

Back in April this piece by Hadley Freeman appeared in the Guardian.  Here’s the headline:

The Oscar Pistorius trial has me hooked like no other

Televised celebrity murder trials are nothing new, but watching a male star sob and squirm as he is called to account is extraordinary

To me what seemed extraordinary wasn’t his sobbing, but the fact that Pistorius was being described in a way which – or so it seemed – assumed his guilt.

“Who should we blame for the fact that you shot her? Should we blame the government?” sneered Nel. Of course, Pistorius could not really answer, and how could he? He can’t even accept the responsibility for when guns go off in his own hands, let alone for who they’re aimed at.

In Pistorius’ place anyone might find it difficult to answer the question he was posed; he could not reasonably blame anyone other than himself, but what was undecided – and of course this was one of the factors most crucially at stake – was whether he knew who he was attacking.

Freeman then invoked an accusation of cheating levelled by Pistorius against a rival.

Petulance does not make a man a murderer, but it does suggest someone who doesn’t consider the consequences of his rage when he doesn’t get his way.

That’s quite a tendentious leap. Although this wasn’t the only point at which she disclaimed a definite opinion about Pistorius’ guilt Freeman wrote in a way which suggested she hadn’t really considered the possibility that he did not mean to kill Reeva Steenkamp, and thus bitterly regretted his actions.

Questions about the legitimacy of Pistorius’s tears in court have occupied many viewers. Nel accused him of crying to buy time while he rethought his defence. Steenkamp’s family have been, understandably, even more sceptical: “He is trying to convince the court that they were really close, and that he cared for her. It’s not true,” Steenkamp’s sister Simone said in an interview (she also disputed Pistorius’ claims that he and Reeva were talking about moving in together). What is more certain is that Pistorius is certainly feeling sorry for himself, complaining at times, “I’m under a lot of pressure. I’m defending my life.”

It was only natural that he was concerned for himself and his future as well as for what he had done  – it would be rather odd if he weren’t. He was also in a bit of a double bind here – if he had shown no emotion, that too might have been construed as a sign of culpability

A month earlier, another hostile article appeared, this one by Marina Hyde. It had a similarly uncompromising pair of headlines:

Oscar Pistorius, spare me the sick bucket

When he bought ‘dum dum’ bullets to protect himself from (most likely, black) intruders, what did he think they did?

As well as being unproven, the casual accusation of racism isn’t really relevant to the case.His horror, his physical reaction, when reminded of what the bullets he used did to Steenkamp seems understandable. Again, one wonders what would have been read into a coldly impassive response from Pistorius to being confronted with the effects of his actions. And once again, there seemed to be an underlying assumption, implicit in the sardonic tone, that Pistorius was guilty of the most serious charges.

As for the continued deployment of Pistorius’s green bucket, we might wonder what part it will play in influencing proceedings. A dehydrated Pete Sampras once vomited twice on the baseline during a fifth-set tiebreaker during the quarterfinals of the US Open, and some credit the display with putting off his opponent sufficiently for him to go on and win the match. After he’d come off the drip, Sampras declared: “I hate to lose, and I do whatever I can to win, and if it is ugly, it is ugly.”

Oscar’s supporters may hope his vomiting will serve to underscore his innocent horror at what has been wrought.

It was interesting that Judge Thokozile Masipa commented today on the impact of the media on witness statements.

Most witnesses got their facts wrong, says Judge, citing media attention and fact that witnesses had followed trial in news. Important.

Despite the dismay from some at the supposed lenience/injustice of the verdict, even the lesser charges which have not yet been ruled out could result in Pistorius spending many years behind bars.

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