Oscar Pistorius had wowed the world and his native South Africa with his once astonishing career. Besides winning gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, the determined athlete once banned, appealed to participate and was the first amputee to compete in track and field at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, giving his fully-abled peers a run for their money.
Pistorius or ‘Blade Runner’ seemed to be on a winning streak until 14 February 2013 when neighbours called the police complaining about a “bloodcurdling” noise at 1 a.m. who found a lifeless Reeva Steenkamp with gunshot wounds. The famous model and girlfriend of the athlete had suffered several blows to the head and one to the arm. Pistorius appeared at Pretoria Magistrate Court, and a premeditated murder case was opened against the sports star.
On 19 February 2013, a funeral service was held for Steenkamp in her hometown of Port Elizabeth at the Victoria Park Crematorium while her suspected boyfriend returned to the Pretoria Magistrate Court for his bail hearing. Overcome with emotion, the athlete wept uncontrollably as his affidavit was read, denying that he intended to kill his girlfriend, whom he claimed to love dearly. Then, six months later, the case was scheduled for March 2014.
Trial and error
The long-awaited trial began as scheduled and even found itself a regular channel on South African cable DSTV where millions could tune in and follow the controversial case.
In April, the athlete found himself sweating bullets during his cross-examination with Gerrie Nel, who reiterated that Pistorius “take responsibility” for his actions as he was confronted with the gory image of Steenkamp’s head oozing blood displayed in court. However, Pistorius maintained his defense that he thought there was an intruder in his bathroom and thus reacted accordingly to protect himself and his girlfriend.
On September 11 and 12, 2014, Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide or manslaughter, meaning that Pistorius was found guilty of an “unlawful” or “negligent” killing in his aspirations of self-defense. The reasoning for this verdict was that even if Pistorius were attempting to protect himself and his home from the said intruder, considering the manner in which he fired the four bullets through the door, the power of the gun used, and the confined space of and therefore limited hiding place in the bathroom, there was hardly a possibility that any person would survive such circumstances; which is knowledge that the State argued Pistorius appreciated. Nonetheless, Pistorius was granted bail and in October 2014, the celebrity athlete was sentenced to a mere five years in jail for culpable homicide.
To add to the public’s outrage, in June 2015 Pistorius’ release from prison to be placed under house arrest, after only having served 10 months of his questionable five-year sentence, was announced and set for August of the same year. Reasons for this was Pistorius’ convenient failing health and talks about how South African correctional facilities were deemed unsafe due to drugs, poor sanitation, violence, risk of gang rape and lack of facilities for people with disabilities.
Pistorius’ set release witnessed a social media frenzy where numerous tweets and Facebook posts all echoed the same disappoint in the Justice system seeking preferential treatment toward the athlete because he is a white, famous and wealthy male, whose disability never seemed to be a factor of pity, until that moment. The public was livid stating that the average South African would not have been judged with the same leniency for such a crime.
Those for Team Steenkamp or even just Team Justice were appalled at Judge Masipa’s decision, saying that Pistorius, also indicted for two unrelated incidents of trigger-happiness, was well-aware that whoever was behind that door would be killed as a result of his blood-thirsty bullets.
In August, the National Prosecuting Authorities appealed the culpable homicide verdict and the five-year sentence at the Supreme Court of Appeal, arguing that the athlete was charged with murder. In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal found Pistorius guilty of murder, stating that he should have foreseen that death was the most likely eventuality after firing the four powerful bullets in a small bathroom. It is this argument that formed the missing link in what Judge Thokozile Masipa had initially ruled against: ‘dolus eventualis.’
Pistorius returned to the Pretoria High Court where he was granted R10 000 bail. The athlete then turned to the Constitutional Court to appeal the murder sentence, which in the country is at least 15 years. His appeal was denied, but re-sentencing was set for June 2016.
Mid-June 2016 the athlete appeared at the Pretoria High Court yet again, arguing mitigation and aggravation of sentence. For the first time since the beginning of the highly publicised case, Reeva’s father, Barry Steenkamp, took the stand for the State, asking for the gut-wrenching photos of his shot-to-death daughter be released.
The defense’s attempt to seek leniency saw a once proud Pistorius turn to shameful theatrics when he took off his prosthetic legs and stumbled before the court to gain sympathy for his disability. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel was unamused by the athlete’s vulnerability plea and asked for a minimum of 15 years.
Finally, on Wednesday 6 July 2016, Judge Thokozile Masipa sentenced Oscar ‘Blade Runner’ Pistorius to only six years in prison for murder, claiming that the athlete has shown remorse and a long-term sentence would not serve justice, News 24 South Africa reported.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) July 6, 2016
What of the Justice System?
This unfortunate day shall be added to the book of examples of when the legal system failed its people. Not only is a six-year sentence for the murder of a significant other, another of the many unsolved domestic violence cases in South Africa, of which women are commonly survivors or murder victims, but it raises questions on whether impartiality is really and truly the name of the justice game.
If Section Nine of the Constitution requires equality before the law, why was unjust leniency granted for one with disabilities that had nothing to do with pulling the trigger more than once firing shots at a person who had basically no chance of survival? In addition, the wealth, fame, social class, race and gender of the guilty party are all believed to have had some influence or another on the final verdict.
If that is the case, then the question is how many unpublicised, non-televised cases in South Africa are judged justly, where factors of either the defense or prosecution’s identity remain completely unrelated to the tried crimes?
What a sad day for justice.