If you’ll pardon the pun it was fatal for the prosecution when they had to accept Oscar Pistorius was on his stumps, in his home and shooting at the toilet door. Every case must have a theory to hang the evidence on in a logical way. Here the theory was flawed as it was based on an incorrect assessment of the trajectory.
The ultimate conclusion that Oscar Pistorius was effectively shooting without thinking (without intent) was almost inevitable.
He was convicted of culpable homicide, which is the equivalent of manslaughter and sentenced today to five years’ imprisonment, along with a suspended penalty for firearms offences. It could have been longer but even a portion will be tough for such a high profile defendant who has demonstrated so much emotion, who has no legs and no recognisable future.
Apparently the prosecution suggested that disability in Oscar Pistorius’ case was not a mitigating factor which is a shocker when one considers they were so in error over that very issue. Of course, disability makes a difference in the context of imprisonment – it’s tough enough for someone with no criminal past, without needing prosthetic limbs and counselling.
Anyone in the criminal justice system is vulnerable but some more so than others – not as vulnerable as a woman in the toilet in a gated community with attendant paranoia – but vulnerable to close scrutiny and here also an attack dog style of cross examination and ultimately prison. Just have a look at the stats for prison suicide and prisoners with mental health problems to get an idea of what courts have to consider. The judge clearly saw through all the nonsense and remained sensible to what is hopefully the last, recognising the rules for the privileged are no different from those who are less fortunate. No sentence will bring back Reeva Steenkamp. No apology will end her parents’ grief but, in a sense, it is a relief to see that South Africa, with all its issues, can deal with such a high profile case with dignity.
Felicity Gerry QC
Felicity Gerry is a high profile criminal barrister and author specialising in serious fatal, sexual and violent offences. She is the co-author of The Sexual Offences Handbook and also a legal media commentator.