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Updated 02 March 2016

Oscar's alarming array of ‘experts’

A lone voice in the wilderness, Nel reminded the court that a criminal sentence is intended to be beyond someone’s comfort zone, and that it’s irrelevant that it might not be enjoyed by the convict.

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Lawyers know better

Some lawyers’ grasp on reality is truly alarming.

A number of the Channel 199 lawyers discussing the Pistorius case are turning out to be excessively biased. One of them, who is fanatically pro-Oscar, sounds as if he wouldn’t want anyone to be sent to jail, ever. Not only do they ignore public opinion, but they also seem to forget that a murder has been committed! Poor old Oscar has merely made a mistake. “Gosh, we all make mistakes, so why pick on him?”


These guys need not respect what the public wants, because they know better. And they’re not the only ones. South African law deliberately ignores public opinion – no-matter how many people might want the death penalty re-instated, they will continue to be ignored.

The standards these lawyers are applying to Oscar should in all fairness be applied to every single convict in the country. If they truly believe their own arguments, nobody should ever be sent to jail, and everyone in jail should be released immediately.

Oscar's disability is irrelevant


His disability is totally irrelevant. He has no uniquely special needs that can’t be adequately met in prison. The repeated whining about disability is an insult to all disabled people. Before he killed Reeva, he managed perfectly well in athletes’ facilities in South Africa and the rest of the world that were often not much better than what our prisons have to offer. Why should he now suddenly need levels of cosseting he didn’t need before?

Read: The realities of disability

It’s becoming increasingly clear that I was right in insisting that Oscar’s sentence was too obscurely reasoned. It has, as I predicted, caused great outrage and confusion. The verdict must go on appeal to be clarified, and either reversed and corrected, or affirmed.

A deal with the Steenkamps?


An ugly, sulphurous stench has arisen from the revelation of financial dealings between the Steenkamps and the defence team. The Steenkamps seem to be nice, naïve, people who have suffered many setbacks in life. Money matters have been clumsily handled on both sides, which will undoubtedly stir rumours. Money was accepted, then rejected, and one wonders if they were manipulated into dropping their planned civil case, or into declining to testify in the sentencing hearing?

Vergeer entitled to her opinion


Ms Vergeer continues to be disastrously inadequate, with unreliable assumptions presented as facts – very out of date facts – most of which originate from a standard report, just tweaked here and there. One wonders if she has ever recommended a prison sentence for anyone at all.

Read:
Five-star prisons or hellholes?

She keeps on repeating that she isn’t an expert on everything, which makes one wonder about the point of her testimony if she feels no need to know anything about the rules and regulations governing prisons and sentences. Everything she says seems to be based on her (unlearned) opinion that no one should ever go to prison. Most of us would die of embarrassment to be so comprehensively exposed as inadequate, but she seemed unfazed: “I’m entitled to my opinion.” 

We must also avoid assuming the truth of fables. There is no good evidence that “rehabilitation” works, in prison, or out of it. There is also no good evidence that “correctional supervision” is as marvellous and useful as she seems to assume. It doesn’t become true merely because she says so.

She clearly didn’t read the trial record. Her evidence seemingly concentrated almost entirely on the judgement, and apparently it was all she discussed with Oscar. She also merely repeated back to the judge what the judge herself had said. It’s not clear in what way she added any value to the process.

She contradicted herself when she wasn’t repeating herself with endless clichés. It’s frightening to think that such reports could ever be used in court to influence decisions affecting people’s lives. Time and again Nel would reveal something basic she ought to know but didn’t, and she’d loftily say, “I take note thereof.”  She evaded almost every question put to her, claiming not to understand even the most crystal clear questions.

Beyond his comfort zone


As a reality check, Nel reminded us that a criminal sentence is intended to be beyond someone’s comfort zone, and that it’s irrelevant that it might not be enjoyed by the convict. “He wouldn’t benefit from prison,” she’d bleat, but a sentence is not meant to be a benefit to the perpetrator. A “broken man” who broke himself doesn’t deserve to wallow in self-pity. His “fall from grace”, his loss of copious earnings must not be seen as substitutes for punishment. If an athlete chooses to drive drunk, has an accident and injures himself, ending his career, his self-inflicted injuries can’t be used as a discount to be subtracted from his sentence for drunk driving.

Read:
A day in prison

Finally a good witness

The last witness of the day was Kim Martin, Reeva’s cousin. She was an excellent witness, frank and open – what a refreshing change. After all the phoney emoting, "praying and spraying", this was transparently genuine and highly relevant. This was an essential reminder to the court of the reality of the impact of Oscar’s “mistake” on the actual victims. Listen to the words, observe the behaviour; this is what an honest and sincere person looks like, expressing their grief. 

I also need to give credit to the ANC Women’s League. They have behaved throughout this trial with great dignity and have shown impressive support of the real victims of these tragic events. They are one of the few groups/people who have come out of this sometimes shoddy event with their honour intact, and this ought to be recognized.

Read more:

Oscar has never shown any real remorse
Is Oscar really a ‘broken man’?
Is it worth sending Oscar to jail?


Image: Prison by 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.

 

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