I’m back on the beat of the Oscar trial after time away from the action. Like a voyeur, I’ve been playing catch-up, tracking the replays of the Oscar Pistorius trial on Channel 199 as his uncertain fate nears.
I’ve missed writing about Oscar. Like anyone with a habit, I had withdrawal symptoms and couldn’t wean myself off without getting at least a hit each day.
I’m left with snapshots of testimony, an incomplete montage of witnesses who messed up and others who held their own. I see the Oscar entourage courting Reeva’s mom, who returned to court to hear the grisly details of how and why both sides say Oscar killed her daughter. Maybe she also realised she had to remind the public at large that Reeva is often forgotten.
And I can’t help wondering if behind Oscar’s predominantly expressionless mask is the boy who had the world at his prosthetic feet, wondering how and why it all went so wrong. If only it was a very bad dream, if only…
But overriding all other images of him is Oscar spewing his heart out in a bucket beside him. Should we be moved? Concerned? Cynical? I wondered publicly on Twitter, tongue firmly in-cheek, whether he was suffering from bulimia or if this was another defence ploy. Like his tears? If so, he’s no award-winner.
He might have been tempted to wipe away the tears when Advocate Roux scraped the surface to uncover some bungled and laughable police work from our so-called law enforcers.
I tuned in as state prosecutor Advocate Gerrie Nel and former policeman Colonel Giliam van Rensburg went through photographs taken at the crime scene. He and another former policeman, the discredited Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, were first on the scene after Oscar shot Reeva dead that fateful night.
Warnings flashed on the TV screen that sensitive viewers might be offended by what was to come. Perhaps they should have warned Oscar because some of the evidence proved too graphic and when he wasn’t reaching for the bucket, he switched off his monitor and held his head in his hands.
Now wearing glasses, I wonder whether his spectacles aren’t another detail choreographed by his advisors. I know some suggest he’d cried so much he couldn’t wear lenses but the cynic in me suspects a body-language expert suggested specs would contribute to a more sensitive and serious demeanour.
And through the bloody photographs and Van Rensburg’s descriptions, we are gaining a composite picture of Oscar. We follow the blood trail with Van Rensburg and Botha as they pass an air gun and cricket bat leaning against Oscar’s sunglasses’ cabinet. We also learn of his collection of wristwatches, one of which went ‘missing’ under police guard.
In the master bedroom, there’s a gun holster on the left bedside table. Outside the bathroom, there’s a cartridge case while inside there are three cartridges.
We see mundane things like mouthwash and toiletries while packets of syringes, boxes of medication, discarded needles tell another story. On the bathroom floor lay vital clues, which may yet be Oscar’s undoing – the blood-spattered cricket bat Oscar used to break down the toilet door and his cocked 9mm Parabellum pistol on the bathroom mat next to what looked like two cell phones.
And in seeming contradiction to the defence’s claim that Oscar was concerned about security, outside the toilet cubicle there’s an open window with the blinds up and the keys are in the outside lock of the broken toilet door.
Perhaps the most poignant picture for me was a sad testament to a life past: spots of blood side by side with trophies from his victorious athletic career.
My fix was incomplete until I saw Barry Roux giving witnesses the third degree. Sometimes infuriating, the advocate has become a favourite on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook where Roux-isms abound – “I put it to you…” has become part of our lingo. Nor did he disappoint me. He was still aggressive, probing, snide, on top of his game. And annoying the hell out of everyone by monotonously asking the same questions over and over again. I think it’s called strategy.
When I tuned in, he was deconstructing the testimony of forensics analyst Colonel Gerhard Vermeulen, who refused to concede that a mark on the door could have been caused by one of Oscar’s prosthetic feet. He said his brief was only to investigate marks caused by the cricket bat that Oscar used to break down the door.
Turning the screw ever tighter, Roux directed Vermeulen to share his expertise with the court. The witness replied that he’d completed an international proficiency test in foot printing.
The following day, Roux was harping on the same subject. He said if the prosthetic foot caused the mark on the door, it would be consistent with his client wearing his prosthesis. Vermeulen still wasn’t convinced. Roux cuttingly retorted that it was obvious he couldn’t be convinced because he didn’t investigate.
The most impressive police witness to date was ballistics expert Captain Christian Mangena. His evidence had Reeva’s mother June in tears.
Mangena held his own against Roux and has gone a long way to restore confidence in our law enforcers. His testimony was articulate, factual, to the point.
The ballistics expert told the court that in March last year he reassembled the door with assistance from forensics expert Colonel Johannes Vermeulen. By reconstructing the crime scene, he was able to determine which bullets matched each hole in the toilet door through which Reeva was shot.
Using the original screws, Mangena marked out the bullet holes before taking it back to Oscar’s house. Evidence corresponded with photos from Reeva’s postmortem.
Mangena testified that Reeva was standing inside the toilet cubicle and facing the closed door when she was hit by the first bullet in the right hip first, the second bullet missed, and the last two bullets hit her in the arm and head.
He backed up his findings with technical evidence relating to angles, degrees, and painstaking measurements of bullet holes and trajectories. He used an angle finder to determine the angle of the bullets and a laser to establish the trajectory.
For his refusal to be intimidated by Roux and for bringing back some dignity to the South African police in front of a global audience, Mangena received virtual applause via the social networks.
I put it to you, Barry Roux, watch out.
The prosecution is expected to call four more witnesses including Hilton Botha before wrapping its case this week. So far they’ve called 18 witnesses to prove their allegation that Oscar and Reeva fought before he shot her. They also hope to prove he’s guilty of three other firearms-related charges.
The prosecution’s case has been strengthened by expert Captain Christian Mangena’s testimony, which appears to support claims from neighbours that they heard screams from a woman on the night of February 14, 2013. It also suggests that Oscar would have known who was behind the door.
Trial watchers are also eager to see whether the content of Oscar’s cell phone has been unlocked.
Then the defence team will make its case and it’s highly anticipated that Oscar will be called early on to convince the court his story is credible. Thereafter, we are likely to hear testimony from corroborating and expert witnesses.
The trial is expected to continue until mid-May with a break for the Easter recess.
If he’s found guilty of murder, Oscar faces at least 25 years behind bars.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Oscar Pistorius (27) fired four shots that killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (29). The prosecution alleges Oscar shot Reeva Steenkamp in cold blood following a noisy argument heard by neighbours.
The defence alleges their client acted in self-defence against an intruder.
Presiding Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two assessors, Janet Henzen-Du Toit and Themba Mazibuko
Oscar Pistorius (OP);
The deceased, Reeva Steenkamp
Advocate Gerrie Nel leads prosecution for the state
Advocate Barry Roux SC leads the defence for OP
Cameras broadcasting live to the global community
Family members, friends of the defendant
Familiy members, friends of the victim
The story so far…
Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp who was shot dead on February 14, 2013, known universally as Valentine’s Day. He admits he fired the shots but claims he thought there was an intruder.
Three neighbours said they heard a woman screaming in the pre-dawn hours. A fourth said she heard a woman arguing.
The prosecution hopes police photographs will support its case.
The defence hopes to discredit witnesses and prove that police work was unreliable.
This feature was written for www.sapeople.com and published on March 24, 2014
Below are links to two previous articles about the Oscar Pistorius trial.