There is no question that Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius admits that he fired the fatal shots that killed Steenkamp and the evidence is overwhelming. However, despite all of that, Pistorius will likely never be convicted.
What do we know for sure about the night Steenkamp died? Well, we know that Pistorius fatally shot her four times and we know that she was in the bathroom behind a closed door.
Everything else in this case is strictly conjecture. The prosecution has built a theory based around Pistorius being a loose cannon who killed his girlfriend after a heated argument.
A witness, who was a considerable distance away (somewhere between 300 to 600 yards—think three to six football fields) from Pistorius' home, says she heard fighting from the residence earlier in the evening in which Steenkamp died.
But who is to say their theory holds more weight than Pistorius’s?
The lead investigator, Hilton Botha, in the case was dismissed after it was revealed he was facing attempted murder charges himself. Even prior to his dismissal, Botha was criticized for giving conflicting information regarding the aforementioned witness under cross examination. Uh oh.
While the prosecution has put forth a theory, Pistorius has put forth an answer. Pistorius claims that after getting up from his bed he heard a noise in his house and responded to it by retrieving a gun he kept at his bedside. He claims that he didn’t realize that Steenkamp was no longer in bed and believed an intruder was in his bathroom.
His response seems far-fetched to me, and probably to most people. However, Pistorius has a documented obsession with guns. In a New York Times article published last year Pistorius told Michael Sokolove that he would shoot guns when he wouldn’t sleep. He also relayed a story about how one time he had retrieved his gun and crept downstairs in his home to investigate an alarm that went off, but found nothing.
So there is some history to show that Pistorius was vigilant in defending himself and his home, and possibly even a little paranoid. However, that is the way of life for many people in South Africa, and particularly the wealthy that are more likely to be targeted by criminals.
In response to the Pistorius case Ashley Fantz of CNN published an informative piece on South Africa’s gun culture. Some important statistics that will support Pistorius’s paranoia are that home break-ins have doubled in the country since 2002-03. Another interesting tidbit is that the main item burglars go after is homeowners' firearms.
If we are to accept that Pistorius was rightfully paranoid in his home, and that he was documented as being vigilant in defending himself and his home, then his story begins to gain some credence.
Yeah, your gut may tell you that there’s no way it happened the way he said it did. That’s what my gut tells me. But, the evidence does not provide a clear-cut case for the prosecution. Unfortunately there is only one side to the story, and that is all there will ever be.
In South Africa there is no jury system. A single judge generally decides cases, but that judge can enlist the help of two other judges if they feel it is necessary. The only thing that Pistorius’ defense team has to do is convince either one or two people that there’s a genuine question of whether Pistorius knew Steenkamp was the person in his bathroom.
Rodney Uphoff, a law professor at the University of Missouri, told the USA Today that he believed only 10 percent of murder trials in South Africa end in a conviction. Based on what the public knows about the Pistorius case, it seems unlikely that Pistorius will be in that 10 percent that is convicted.
Even if the prosecution’s theory is more rational than Pistorius’ version of the events, there is still enough of a history with Pistorius that his story of believing an intruder was in his home holds some water.
When it comes to trials, it boils down to what you know, not what you think. It appears that Pistorius is guilty, but in no way is there concrete evidence of his guilty. Unless the prosecution produces a damning piece of evidence, for example a Pistorius confession, I think it likely that a judge, or judges, will find it difficult to convict Pistorius.