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Updated 02 March 2016

Oscar trial: police make a mess

It’d be funny if it wasn’t all such a tragedy. Evidence continued to emerge of a typical police omni-shambles in the Oscar trial, says CyberShrink.

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It’d be funny if it wasn’t all such a tragedy. Evidence continued to emerge of a typical police omni-shambles in the Oscar trial.

Here are some examples: officers apparently in the same small room at the same time, but not seeing each other; a watch stolen under the noses of the investigators  and still missing a year later; and loose ends everywhere one looked.

In other countries this would be considered a scandal, and senior police officials, even a Minister, would feel obliged to resign. But here it’s generally considered par for the course, and nobody’s shocked or outraged, or even complains.

Most of us with any experience of trying to work with the police when a crime has been committed, would expect no more. Perhaps the most frightening aspect is that this was known immediately to be a high-profile case, certain to attract close international attention, so this multi-mess may be how it looks when everyone is trying their very best.
 
Not all bad
Individual officers shone, such as the ballistics expert, Mangena, who was clear, confident and convincing. The blood spatter and iPod experts seemed good, but were done so quickly we hardly noticed.  

Some aspects of the case continue to be very puzzling. Roux continued to be effective, even when the state evidence was rather good, scattering doubts, and puffing up smokescreens of quibbles.

But for instance, both sides seemed to assume that both the cameras, of Colonel Motha and the official police photographer, van Staden, were precisely co-ordinated and should provide identical and matching time readings - yet that was never established in evidence, and seems unlikely to occur automatically. Yet Roux was able to create much doubt using this assumption, which went unchallenged.

The missing evidence
Why are some obviously relevant witnesses not called by anyone, and some evidence doesn’t appear? Of course everything may be well sorted out in the end. But where are Motha’s pictures, and why hasn’t he and the initial investigator who was so horribly damaged at the bail hearing been called? Presumably some strategy is at play.

Read more: The Oscar Pistorius trial is super confusing

Why on earth was the cellphone / Ipad expert called at all? He submitted a list of the web-sites visited on the fateful night, and saved Favourites, but they weren’t revealed or discussed. Someone was online from around 6.30 to 9.20 that night. Roux was satisfied to elicit that there was no data on who used the iPad. Maybe Oscar will be asked about this when he’s on the stand? Whose iPad was it? The usage seems to have started before he reached home that night, so who did what?  

Can all the blood spots, especially the small ones, be explained by blood spurting from a small damaged artery? So long as the spurting continued, rather than blood dripping, Reeva must have been still alive.

Much is made by Roux of small differences in the orientation of objects such as the bat, compared to marks on the floor, as proof they were moved. Maybe that happened, but they’re ignoring the fact that parallax and other factors mean that even minor differences in the angle and height from which a picture is taken, can cause such variations in appearance, even if the bat is immobile.

Read more: The absurdities of the Oscar trial

TV commentary on the case
Muddled thinking continues to prevail in TV commentary. The choice of which pictures to publish or show is not, as was solemnly insisted, a moral or ethical issue at all ; it’s a matter of taste, surely something TV commentators are familiar with ?  

I find it annoying when someone appearing on TV is described as a ‘personality’: as though the rest of us don’t have personalities at all, and when in fact they have some of the least interesting personalities on earth.

Why the sloppy talk about ‘trial by media’, which I discussed earlier. Lots of coverage of what is happening in a real trial isn’t ‘trial by media. That’s when the media give massive coverage before the real trial, and find someone guilty before the case even starts in court. (The accused never complain when the media are unanimously finding them not guilty).

Then there’s the continuing obsession print and TV folks have developed for Twitter. I feel nauseous each time they show us a meaningless Word Cloud. What do we learn when someone shows us that the most common words used in Tweets about the case are Oscar, trial, court, and so on. Now, if the most commonly used words were paprika, Oslo, apple crumble and Beethoven, that might actually be interesting! When will they reveal to us that rain is wet ?  

And then there’s Twitter
They’re thrilled to count the tweets. What is revealed by the number of times a brief comment from a real journalist is re-tweeted? Its just counting parasites. Years ago there was great and mistaken emphasis placed on the Science Citation Index, which listed for each scientific publication, how many times it got quoted in other scientific journals. The number of citations was assumed to measure how important and brilliant your work was. Then it was realised that the best way to get a large number of citations, was to be horribly wrong, because then everyone else rushed into print to point out your errors.

The situation is very different in a South African Ccourt with no jury, compared with countries where juries decide cases. The judge is assumed to be much less readily swayed by emotional material.

But if Oscar is to have any real public life after the trial, whatever the outcome, he does want to maintain the esteem of public opinion. Nobody is commenting on it, but there seem to be major efforts to develop pro-Oscar propaganda outside the

court, which the media lap up. We keep hearing from a woman from Iceland doing the rounds talking about how marvelous Oscar was to her similarly disabled son.

I’m sure he was indeed great towards the kid. But who paid the airfares for her (and, according to one report, her mother) to fly here from Iceland and her costs while here?  

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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