extremely lucky yet again. After escaping a murder sentence through what many
lawyers consider a misinterpretation and misapplication of the law, he’s
received a really lenient sentence, and with good behaviour, could be out of
jail and back in the mansion in less than a year. Roux’s been extremely lucky, too,
having presented a confused and confusing case with dreadful witnesses, he’s
won a far better result than the case deserved.
The judge opened with a long explanation of the great
difficulty of deciding on a sentence – apparently anticipating much
controversy. The state really should appeal the verdict, and, indeed, the subsequent
sentence. Many lawyers believe she made
several very significant mistakes, such
as dismissing the charge of having ammunition without license, and especially
in an odd interpretation of the peculiar “dolus eventualis” concept in South
African law, which is now so confusing that it shouldn’t be applied at all.
Read: Do more gun laws mean fewer gun deaths?
an urgent need for the highest court to sort this out and correct her if it
finds she erred by changing the sentence to one of murder – with an appropriate
sentence – and making the murky and
absurd principle clear and workable.
Fortunately she rejected the pleas to sentence him to “Monty
Python’s Comfy Chair” punishment. No
amount of assertion by the defence that house arrest in a mansion is a terribly
cruel punishment, could ever convince anyone (but throw in a session with Ms
Vergeer twice a week and we’ll talk again).
It was reported that before the judge entered court, Ms
Harzenburg was sitting beside Oscar, holding his hand. This is not orthodox behaviour, nor does it
form part of normal trauma therapy. This sort of infantilizing of Oscar could
actually do real harm. The persistent
hysterical exaggeration of his vulnerability, disability and incapacity
throughout the trial is harmful behaviour. This is a man who was extremely
tough and capable, a fierce competitor who didn’t need anyone to stroke his
hand before a major race. If you treat
him like a broken man, you could make it come true. Treated with respect as an
adult, expected to shoulder responsibility, he’ll make a far better and
Similarly his defenders kept alluding to his massive physical
and psychological needs, without ever being convincing or specific about what
was needed. Its enormity was to be assumed, without question, and expected to
rule out anything but special soft cushion treatment and sentencing. The judge
wisely criticised the “over-emphasis” on his vulnerability, while ignoring his
proven coping skills. His main contribution to society lay in changing public
perceptions of disability and inspiring young disabled people – achievements
seriously damaged by his whimpering defence.
Read: An Oscar-winning performance
Judge Masipa mentioned that Roux had referred her to “many
cases, none on point”, and neatly reviewed the two key cases he’d offered as
proof that probation was essential, deftly highlighting their lack of relevance
to this case.
Vergeer needs to disappear
Easily overlooked, another serious verdict was delivered. Delightfully
and appropriately, judge Masipa was blisteringly critical of the “evidence” of
Ms Vergeer. She’s sitting pretty, with a job at the Department of Correctional
Services, and a thriving business on the side, testifying as an “expert”
witness in many high profile cases.
Her report was disgracefully sloppy, out-of-date and
inaccurate. An expert is expected to
deliver their report to the lawyers who requested it before their day in court.
If that was the case, it’s hard to
imagine how and why Roux could have accepted the report or allowed it to be
presented in court. If mere correctional supervision were ever a possibility, Vergeer’s
report killed it stone dead.
Read: What the world thinks of Oscar's sentence
I can’t see how she could be of value in any other cases
after this. If ever she appears in court again, any lawyer worth his salt would
both challenge her status as an expert witness, and to remind the new court of
how thoroughly and emphatically her opinion had been nullified by this court. She
was denounced as slapdash and disappointing, and the court expressed a lack of
confidence in her opinions. Now would be a good time for her to take up
gardening or knitting.
On behalf of
the old and ugly
I’m a bit puzzled at how the judge and others, commenting on
the tragic loss of Reeva, constantly refer to her being pretty, young and
vivacious. As someone who cannot be
accused of possessing any of those qualities, I’m concerned. Is it somehow less
tragic if the victim is ugly, old and past their prime?
Can I also call for a moratorium on some grossly over-used
clichés? Please stop saying that no sentence can bring Reeva back. Only the
severely psychotic could ever imagine that it would. But her inability to return doesn’t make it
pointless to severely sentence her killer. Stop using the term “innocent until
proved guilty” until you understand what it means. Explain to an awaiting trial
prisoner, crammed into an over-crowded cell, and waiting months and even years
for a trial, how it applies to him. Too often it’s used to stop any intelligent
discussion of the evidence in a trial. Such banal platitudes may be true, but
not always useful.
Read: Oscar's alarming array of ‘experts’
I wish courts would be honest and accurate in naming the
sentences they impose. Here, for
instance, the headline is “Oscar gets Five Years”, but could be eligible for
parole in 10 months. Why is it called a “Life Sentence” when hardly anyone
actually serves life? If a lesser period of imprisonment is considered fine,
then sentence the accused to 15 years, and make sure it is actually 15 years,
otherwise the numbers are only a worst case scenario. The man convicted of
killing Shrien Dewani’s wife, who died in jail of a brain tumour, is the first
man I can remember who in actual fact served a life sentence for murder.
Uncle Pistorius held a typically brief and controlling press
conference after the verdict, which was interesting if not convincing. Notice
how he always tries to control the media, expecting them to pay attention, accept
whatever he says without questions and then leave quietly. He indicated that the family had accepted the
verdict and that the public should do the same. This may indicate that they don’t intend to appeal, as to do so might
open a possible review of verdict and sentence, not necessarily in their favour
. . .
Is Oscar really a ‘broken man’?
Oscar has never shown any real remorse
Who’s on trial, Oscar or SA's prisons?
Image: Scales of justice from Shutterstock
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.