advertisement
Updated 02 March 2016

The Oscar Pistorius trial is super confusing

Cybershrink wonders why full video footage of all witnesses cannot be allowed – from the neck down. Or why their identity can't be protected by re-enacting the proceedings with Lego figures.

1

Two good things happened in Pretoria this week. Firstly we had a bit of sunshine, and secondly the issues about media reporting on the Oscar Pistorius seem to have been resolved.

This I find a little disappointing, as I have a few creative proposals to offer the court: Why not allow full video footage of all witnesses – but from the neck down?

Or how about protecting people’s identity by re-enacting the proceedings with Lego figures, of course minus the horrors of the things the hypersensitive Dr Saayman (the pathologist who carried out the autopsy on Reeva's body) was so sure would deprave and corrupt us.

Or perhaps they can employ specially trained gerbils to convey the proceedings to us in sign language – or hamsters, if we need to protect the dignity of gerbils? 

Wasn’t it an anticlimax when Saayman’s evidence turned out to be factual, sober and professional – and failed to cause large-scale fainting or rioting in the streets as he had self-importantly suggested?

Read: What we know about Reeva's injuries

Talking about violent reactions, Oscar himself has demonstrated a great deal of sensitivity to evidence and pictures shown in court, weeping and retching and apparently even vomiting at one stage.

This, of course, cannot be interpreted as a sign of either guilt or innocence; it seems however to be getting increasingly easily triggered. 

The media have been doing rather well under very challenging conditions – where different rules seem to apply to different witnesses. Witness A may be heard but cannot be seen, while witness B can be seen but not heard ...

When Twitter was banned, it was truly Oscar unplugged and everyone seemed relieved when it was re-allowed. 

The authorities, mainly legal, clearly don’t trust us ordinary people. Simply broadcasting the trial with minimal restrictions, providing us with undiluted access to whatever happens in court, so that we can make up our own minds, appears to be unthinkable.

So much so, that they’d prefer the media (usually not regarded as an ally) to paraphrase, edit, mediate, curate and filter the evidence, before presenting it to the public.

Why can’t we hear for ourselves what people are saying instead of listening to someone else’s version? 

Read: Why Oscar deserves to be on TV

They're randomly protecting people’s privacy 

The restrictions to protect people’s privacy provided a few amusing incidents. It was a lawyer, not a reporter, who exposed the private cell phone number of a witness, while the person was being “protected” by withholding his photo.

He received unpleasant nuisance calls from idiots, which would not have happened had he simply been shown on television.

A rather fierce lawyer felt that people like herself might be at risk from members of the public who didn’t like what they said in court, if their pictures were published. Yet she happily appeared on TV, expressing rather unpopular views, clearly feeling quite unthreatened by all the exposure!

At the beginning of the trial, a great fuss was made of sneaking Oscar into court through a side-entrance, with a scrum of onlookers and photographers jostling to get a picture, thinking this might be their only chance.

Well, the hysteria has abated and now he strolls through the front door with only a small entourage, without any fuss, mobbing, or trouble.

Though one must wonder why anyone feels the world so desperately needs pictures of him every day, entering and leaving the court buildings.  

Some witnesses get the third degree, others aren't questioned enough

Expert witnesses are there to assist the court and not to take sides, if it can be avoided. Unfortunately that becomes difficult if the cross-examiner attacks you personally and treats your cool expert opinion as a devilish plot to subvert his case. 

Did anyone take note of the interesting event reported by Oscar’s ex girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, when questioned about how his fear of a home invasion or attack?

She said that when he thought he heard an odd noise one night (in the bathroom?) he woke her up to ask her if she had also heard the noise – exactly what one would have expected him to do with Reeva beside him.

Why did he not do the same thing on the fateful night? 

Read: How far away can we hear someone scream

Why the evidence is troubling me

There are also other bits of troubling evidence. One is the presence of food in her stomach, suggesting she had eaten much later that night than his version of events, which has them both going to bed at 10.30.

Roux tried to pick away at the speed of gastric emptying, but this was unconvincing. Did she have a snack pack at the bedside, or get up to go to the kitchen in the middle of the night without him noticing, though he was later woken by minor noises in the bathroom?

We are anxiously waiting to hear precisely WHAT noises he heard in the bathroom, as there seemed from the pictures to be wooden blinds on windows which could easily clack or otherwise make noises in the night.

The use of special bullets (Black Talon hollow point) designed to inflict maximum damage is disturbing, too, and goes beyond the purposes of self-defence.

Even if he didn’t intend to kill Reeva, those bullets, and his apparent readiness to shoot at a noise, not knowing who or what was behind the door, suggests an inappropriate willingness to kill.  

Take a look at black talon bullets and how they change once shot. From Defensivecarry.com

talon

Sloppy police work could jeopardise the State's case

Evidence seems to be growing of sloppy police handling of the crime scene and of evidence, and I expect we’ll hear much about this later. We keep on being told that “physical evidence can’t lie”.

Well, it can be confusing, experts can disagree about it, and it can certainly be used to support misleading arguments.

Nel is good on re-examination, crisp, to the point, and clear. Roux gets very confusing, probably deliberately, so witnesses like Police Colonel Johannes Vermeulen can become confused.

Roux will ask a lot of questions, hinting at evidence he may have, then abandons it with “We’ll come to that later” and often doesn’t return to it at all.

He asked for Vermeulen’s phone records through the previous night and the morning of his evidence – a sinister and frightening request – but then didn’t use them. 

Something else that puzzles me is the absence of all the other ear witnesses, neighbours much closer than those who testified, and who MUST have heard screams, and bangs, and may have heard any arguments. Are they refusing to testify?

Are they not being used because their testimony might weaken the state’s case? It may be an upmarket area, but the houses are really close together. 

Did anyone else see an interview on Channel 199 with a certain Brad Woodhall, apparently a neighbour of Oscar’s former girlfriend?

And did you recognize him as the man who was once briefly famous as “Bad Brad” on the first South African Big Brother series?

What’s happening? Is this becoming reality TV?   


Michael A Simpson, Health24 Cybershrink
Ask CyberShrink your pressing questions

Read more:

The absurdities of the Oscar trial - have medical ethics been perverted
Who immediately stole the show - Oscar or Barry?
What's written in the blood spatter? See how the experts analyse a crime scene.

Image: black talon bullets from www.defensivecarry.com

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.

 

More:

Columnists
advertisement

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.