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Updated 02 March 2016

Melodramatics, bias, and the Mystery of the Dog in the Night.

Health24's CyberShrink, Prof Michael Simpson bemoans the lengthy (and costly) break in court proceedings, followed by distinctly lack-lustre witnesses.

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The case resumed after a luxuriously long break, and then adjourned, for a feeble excuse, after less than half a day’s evidence.

With such a long time in which to  prepare, it was not credible that the Defence had only lined up two very minor witnesses and had no others ready.

You NEVER assume that any witness, especially a pair that largely duplicated each others stories and were only slightly relevant, will take so long in cross-examination that no further witnesses need be available.

This want only wastes really valuable court time. Every hour that this case doesn’t proceed, other cases can’t even begin, and awaiting trial prisoners possibly entirely innocent, spend longer in prison waiting for their own trial. Costs to the accused and to the tax-payers who are paying for the Prosecution, rocket needlessly.

Read: Will the break help or hinder the Oscar Pistorius trial?

Isn't it high time to revise the maladaptive old practices that require the State/Prosecution to reveal in advance all the witnesses they plan to call and provide a summary of what they will say, but which don’t require the Defence to make matching disclosures ?

Both sides should have to provide copies of the reports of their experts, so the court’s time can be used efficiently. It’s reported, for instance, that the admirable State ballistics expert provided in advance a 53 page detailed report, while the feeble Mr Dixon arrived in Court with a few notes on some scraps of paper.

Sometimes the experts on both sides should have to get together, to establish what they can agree on, and to clarify where they differ, for the same reason. Wasn’t it oddly unfortunate that the famous ballistics expert who was reported to have been seen in court every other day of the trial, wasn’t there this particular day, when his evidence was really badly needed?

Read: 10 Things you need to know about ballistics
Further puzzles continue to emerge. There was sudden reference to Frank, apparently Oscar’s live-in gardener. It’s reported that the police took a statement from him but neither side considered it of any use, and that he may have heard and seen nothing.

As he later turned up on the scene, presumably he eventually noticed something. When people a considerable distance away heard the sounds, could he really not shed light on whether the screams were male, female, or mixed? Or how many bangs he heard?

Did I imagine it ( so sad we don’t get to see the transcript ) - or did young Ms Stander at one stage refer to hearing the man calling for help and something about wondering what had happened to the woman’s voice ? Did she really hear a voice or voices, but not the much louder bangs ? Really ?

Read: Just how far away can you hear someone scream?
The Standers say when they arrived, Oscar’s front door was standing ajar, and the lights were on in the hall. Did he run down and open the door and switch on the lights before going back up to fetch Reeva’s body ? Unless this is entirely clear, it’s a really odd situation.

Stander suggested he was puzzled at the idea of 8 shots from one gun. But he never said he heard any number of the shots himself, and how did he know there couldn’t have been two guns used ?

It was established that Reeva, having stayed in the house alone at times, and cared for the dogs, must have known how to use and disarm the alarm system. Indeed, so must both the Standers.

Ms Stander seemed familiar with the house, and knew where to go to fetch towels from the linen cupboard, while her father was very careful to insist that he was only a slight friend of Oscar, and that they had never been to each other’s homes for a meal or braai, only for coffee.

The question of what the dog did in the night
If Oscar was genuinely so terrified of house invaders, why did he choose to have cuddly and playful dogs who were known in the neighbourhood to be friendly and unlikely to attack ?

In the great Sherlock Holmes books, there’s his famous remark about the importance of what the dog did in the night. When someone protested that the dog did nothing and never barked at all, he pointed out that this was precisely what was important.

Though neither Prosecutor or Defence seem interested, in this case, too, the mystery is that neither dog barked nor reacted at all.

This should have made it very clear to Oscar that there were no intruders (no dog would have been silent about that); yet they don’t even seem to have barked in response to the screaming and bangs.

Oscar is described as “trying to vomit” which is peculiar. In such a shocking situation, it wouldn't be at all surprising if he did vomit, spontaneously, but why would he try to make himself vomit ?

Read: Why was Oscar vomiting in court?

Advocates often remind me of large birds. Often ruffling their feathers, especially when they abruptly tug their floppy black gowns back, sometimes to emphasize a point. I wonder if they might follow a trail of bird seed, or must it only be large denomination bank notes ?

Qualifying for a TV drama award?

All we heard from was a couple of people who showed that they were not at all independent or neutral, but showed substantial bias towards Oscar. There were many convincing signs of this, only one of which did a noticeably subdued Mr Nel point out.

Most disturbing was Mr Stander’s great speech delivered with actorly pause and flourishes. Maybe it was unplanned and unrehearsed, and purely spontaneous poetry that occurred to him on the spot.

But it sounded so carefully prepared, and designed too perfectly to meet the needs of the Defence, to match Oscar’s story and emphasise his extreme grief and remorse. “ I saw the truth there” he insisted, melodramatically. What I saw what looked far more like acting.

It must be remembered by all that even when it is not cynically simulated for the benefit of the sobbing perpetrator, grief and remorse does not at all suggest innocence of murder, or absence of malice and intent.

Of course it might, and it could be genuine and sincere, but it is so often seen in a guilty person shocked at what he may have done earlier in a fury, and horrified and sad for what this now means for him himself.

It was odd that this speech, for that is what it was, went unchallenged: as it was not a factual answer to a question, but a soliloquy, a personal imagining and interpretation of what he saw.

Ordinary witnesses are required to stick to the facts, and not to give opinions as to the meaning and significance of what they saw.

Such care was taken to insist, repeatedly, that Oscar had from the very start, even though otherwise largely incoherent, said clearly that he shot Reeva thinking she was an intruder. I notice he’s always quoted as using exactly the same word : “intruder”, not burglar, prowler, robber, criminal, crook, or thief.

Read: What happens when someone is shot

Look at other ways this pair saw things exclusively from Oscar’s point of view. Mr. Stander spoke of Mr Pistorius, not of Reeva.

Isn’t it odd that a father, woken in the middle of the night by someone saying he had killed someone else’s daughter, rushes to take his own daughter with him, to meet the killer? And without first calling the police, security, or an ambulance?

Both of them dissolved into tears when talking of poor Oscar, but showed no sympathy or tears for Reeva. At this rate, soon Mr Roux will be the last person on the Defence side not to have burst into tears.

We were told that Oscar was crying and praying, and “torn apart”.

No, Mr. Stander, it was Reeva who had been literally torn apart. And, due to Oscar’s choice of bullets, unable to cry or pray.

*Opinions mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Health24.com

Read more

Has Oscar Pistorius lost the plot?
Cybershrink: Geology rocks (but not Mr Dixon)
Do you hope Oscar is innocent, or do you need him to be

Ask CyberShrink your pressing questions about the Oscar trial, or psychology matters

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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