Pistorius guilty of Manslaughter and Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm in Public

Friday, September 12, 2014

Good morning:

Judge Masipa found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, which we call manslaughter, and guilty of unlawful discharge of a firearm in public for shooting a gun in a restaurant. She found him not guilty of unlawfully discharging a firearm through the sunroof of a vehicle and not guilty of unlawful possession of ammunition.

This case is more about the presumption of innocence and the absence of evidence, rather than the evidence that was presented at trial. When all is said and done, Pistorius fired 4 shots through a locked door into a toilet cubicle that was not much bigger than a stall in a public bathroom.
He testified that he believed that an intruder was in the cubicle and he fired his gun in self-defense believing he was in imminent danger of death or serious injury.

In other words, he admitting committing the acts that caused Reeva Steenkamp’s death. The disputed issues concerned his knowledge and intent.

Did he really believe an intruder was in the cubicle or did know she was in there?

Did he intend to kill the person when he fired the shots?

As Judge Masipa pointed out, there was no evidence that Pistorius had physically abused or threatened Steenkamp or any other woman in the past and there was no evidence that any serious problems existed in their relationship.

No direct evidence contradicted what he said about his knowledge and intent when he fired the shots, although the prosecutor caught him in many inconsistencies and lies during cross examination.

Even though he lied about other matters and his story about an intruder did not make any sense, Judge Masipa was unwilling to conclude that he knew she was in the cubicle and he intended to kill her when he fired the shots.

Notwithstanding his lame story and his strong motive to lie about the shooting, she concluded instead that the prosecution failed to overcome the presumption of innocence regarding his knowledge and intent by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is a legal presumption that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts. However, this presumption cannot substitute for actual evidence and overcome the presumption of innocence.

Circumstantial evidence is a form of evidence that can be more powerful than direct evidence, depending on the circumstances.

Under South African law, however, a judge cannot base a verdict on circumstantial evidence alone unless no inference except guilt can reasonably be drawn from it.

Her conclusion makes sense when viewed through the prism of the legal rules that she applied. However, it makes no sense to be forced into accepting a liar’s statement about his knowledge and intent when it is contrary to common experience and he has a powerful motive to lie.

That’s the core weakness of her decision.

As I said yesterday,

Keep in mind that there is a difference between forming an opinion about what really happened and deciding whether the state overcame the presumption of innocence by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

That difference is a key to understanding this verdict.

Also key to understanding her verdict is the South African rule that a verdict may not be based on circumstantial evidence alone unless the evidence is inconsistent with any other conclusion.

That used to be the rule in most jurisdictions in the US but has gradually been rejected as a comment on the evidence, which is forbidden by most state constitutions.

Instead, most instructions tell the jury that evidence is either direct or circumstantial and one is not necessarily better or more reliable than the other. It’s up to the jury to decide how much weight to assign to the evidence.

I think he probably is looking at a total sentence for the two offenses of somewhere between 8-12 years.

54 Responses to Pistorius guilty of Manslaughter and Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm in Public

  1. ay2z says:

    He’s free to compete for South Africa again, agent wants to know his decision apparently.

    So will this help guide the court’s sentencing decisions, one might wonder. The athlete can’t compete from jail, but he can be kept busy in training and out of harm’s way, why not, after all it was just ‘an accident’.

    His lies were of more direct evidence value to the judge and he was believed because
    http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/sep/15/oscar-pistorius-free-compete-south-africa

    • ay2z says:

      (sorry….. intended to cut off that last sentence. Thinking the judge might have valued his version (her choice which) over and above circumstances, no matter how powerful and tied to direct evidence such as bullet holes, paths and effects that show intent. )

    • ay2z says:

      Quote from the guardian’s article:

      The International Paralympic Committee has already said he could resume his career once he has served any sentence, describing him as “a fundamental ambassador of the Paralympic movement”.

      Unquote

  2. Malisha says:

    RE: Pistorius — logic just got lost.
    If you wake up and go to the bathroom to use the facility for its intended purpose, during the time it takes for a boyfriend to retrieve his gun and work himself up into a frenzy you either (a) go ahead and use the facility or (b) shout to him to stop carrying on just because you’re in the bathroom. You can’t tell me a normally intelligent woman, hearing a ruckus and distress from the boyfriend about “get out of my house” would neither identify herself nor holler back for him to calm down.

    Logically, the only possibility is that Pistorius understood Reeva was in that room whether she ran there to escape his wrath or whether she went there to use the facility but got interrupted by her death.

    • Her bladder was empty, but there was no urine in the toilet bowl, and Pistorius never mentioned hearing the toilet flush.

      • MKX says:

        Why would she need to pee, if she ran into the bathroom to get away from him?

        It is not uncommon for a wife to run to another room and lock the door to escape a husband in a state of rage. The idea is for the parties to cool off so that something unfortunate does not occur during the illogical heat of an argument.

        And it is beyond me that the judge did not seem to think this was possible absent a “history”.

        There are people in my own family that have done things in a “snap rage” that could have killed another person, yet they have no “history”.

        There are numerous road rage killings wherein the killer had no “history”.

        My point is that we can all “lose it”. And if we do, we should pay for our “mistake”.

  3. ay2z says:

    Not a comment for reflection ‘yet’, but once sentencing has taken place, we might see more activity from the state with a possible decision to appeal (do they want to waste more court time and money. (IE is a beautiful, successful, intelligent model and socially coscious law graduate, who is also white from a nice family background a suitable ’cause’ for any big social cause other than abuse of women by their partners in SA for the state to push for another trial? )

    But the Sttenkamps may, on behalf of Reeva, bring justice in a civil court. Pistorius may recover from the fallout and regain his wealth potential, having only caused an ‘accident’ twice convicted, accident prone, he may do very well in the future and overcome his situation nicely.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_law_of_delict

  4. Malisha says:

    This guy Apperson, when the time comes that Zimmerman does kill someone else (and he will get away with that one too now that the police HAVE TO PROTECT HIM because he has their #) — Apperson will have to share the real blame with the six Fogenworshippers who acquitted him, the three prosecutors who assured his escape from justice, the racist press who maligned his victim, the bimbo who wanted the court to “take the target off George’s back,” and the lawyers who spread their own repulsive perversions all over the American people.

  5. J4TMinATL says:

    Not sure if posted already but are we surprised. Nope.

    Fogen threatens to kill driver.

    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/george-zimmerman-accused-threatening-kill-driver/nhLr5/

      • Disappointed says:

        That guy carries also! He should have popped a cap in Fogens ass. If fogen ever threatened me I would shoot him. Hell I would probably just shoot because I felt threatened by Fogens presence. Wth is wrong with that child killer? Self entitled idiot.

        • Malisha says:

          Surely anybody meeting up with Fogen now has a perfect right to stand his ground. Fogen has shown that he can be dangerous to a person’s life or bodily welfare. I once fantasized that every African American in Florida would apply for a protective order against Fogen coming within 100 yards of him/her. Who could possibly refuse that reasonable request? Oh, and every woman too.

      • MKX says:

        Take a good look at Zimmerman’s posture and thickness through the upper back when viewed in profile. I have been going to gyms for 30 years and can tell you that he is not “weak”.

        One big travesty out of that trial was the assumption that Zimmerman, because he was not “buff”, he was weaker than the “fit” but much smaller Martin.

        Any honest gym owner will tell you that one of the top three exercises that define strong is the deadlift. And that “fat boys” rule over “pretty boys”.

        IMO, if Zimmerman grabbed Martin’s hoodie, it would have been very hard for Martin to break free, given his slight build. The best he could have done was lash out with his free hand.

        Anyhow, the other guy also had a gun. So maybe the “train” is coming for George Zimmerman. Like with Jesse James, there will be a Bob Ford looking for him to make his wee mark on the world.

      • MKX says:

        Another observation.

        Does anyone think that a black man would get the same polite treatment that George got from the police, if he had been reported to have threatened to kill another in a 9-11 call?

        Wow, and there would be a real weapon, not an imaginary one.

        • J4TMinATL says:

          MKX

          No.

          And I don’t understand why the guy wouldn’t press charges. I suspect he’s afraid or doesn’t want to get involved with the circus that is GZ.

  6. Two sides to a story says:

    It’s a shame with Pistorius that the judge can’t give him a stiffer penalty due to the way his incidents have escalated. He’d for damn sure get a lot more time if he wasn’t white and rich.

    • Malisha says:

      Excuse me, but why are witnesses to a crime given a choice to prosecute or not? All the “victim” is in a crime like “terroristic threatening” or “assault” is a complaining witness for the PEOPLE in the People versus the defendant. The prosecutor represents the PEOPLE, not the victim. That is why domestic violence cases can go forward without the battered wives’ cooperation, if the police say the case meets certain criteria. I believe the driver in this case was probably intimidated by the police into NOT pressing charges, as they say. Because surely, by now, it is obvious that Fogen is building up to another kill and he has been emboldened by the conduct of the police and prosecutors who have so slavishly supported his past slavemaster/woman-user/road-owner behaviors.

  7. Diamonique says:

    Fogen is gonna kill somebody… again. Btw, what does Fogen mean?

  8. Check out this article in Mother Jones about the myriad ways that the Municipal Court for the City of Ferguson screws people out of money and messes up their lives if they don’t pay.

  9. Here’s an article by ABC News referring to an interview of Samantha Taylor by Matt Guttman. She was OP’s girlfriend before Steenkamp. The article is a pitch to watch the interview tonight.

    It contains a teaser (i.e., Taylor said that could have been me) but does not say he physically abused her.

    I should also note that Judge Masipa said she did not believe the prosecution witness who testified about the shot out the sunroof of the car. That witness was Samantha Taylor.

    • girlp says:

      Pistorius like Fogen does not need to drink and does not need a weapon of anykind. He seems to like to fire them off anytime he wants to….too bad the judge cannot see through him.

  10. YQ says:

    Who else was in the bathroom if your wife wasn’t in bed? As a married man, I know when my wife wakes up at night. It wakes me up when she wakes up. He knew that she was in the bathroom.

    • I agree and I also do not believe that Steenkamp would have locked herself in the cubicle with her phone, if she woke up and went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

      • ay2z says:

        absolutely she would not lock the bathroom door without some good reason.

        Pistorius excused this locking issue by offering his cries/shouts to Reeva to call the police. But we have no evidence that fear, transmitted from PIstorius’s directions or direct fear of intruders experienced by Reeva, caused her to lock the door from intruders. Supported by no 911 or police call, though she had easy and quick access to do that.

        Door was not locked for an intruder, and no reason to lock it for her boyfriend, shut it yes, lock no. Not if she trusted him.

      • tblue says:

        Professor,

        I don’t know how else to ask about another case, since I don’t find an email button on this site.

        Do you know what the outcome was of the trial of Michael Hart, the cop in Skokie who was arrested for brutality after shoving a 47-year-old woman so hard into a concrete bench that she had to have her face reconstructed by surgery?

        Her name is Cassandra Feuerstein. The cops tried their usual cover-up, but the video from the holding cell was so bad they couldn’t get away with it and the cop went on trial in January, I believe.

  11. bettykath says:

    Well, at least he isn’t going to walk. So she bought his story of an intruder and not that they were having an argument.

    • Malisha says:

      “He isn’t going to walk” is a bit ironic.

      You know, I was wondering about how she could have “bought” the story of an intruder and I came to the conclusion that she couldn’t have really “bought” it but that she realized that proof beyond reasonable doubt was unreachable (in spite of the excellence of Nell’s presentation) in view of the witness situation. I don’t think any rational intelligent person would really have “bought” the intruder story but she was making a decision that had to and was designed to withstand appeal.

      • bettykath says:

        re: “He isn’t going to walk” I thought about the irony and whether or not it was ok to express myself that way. Looking at his ability, rather than his disability, he does walk physically but his means is different. So I went with the saying.

        I agree that she has taken an approach that should withstand any appeal, which he is bound to try. The “witness” to intruder or Steenkamp is in his head and he says it’s intruder. She is right in her legal conclusion but I don’t have to be legally appeal proof.

        • Malisha says:

          Exactly. We can all continue to know what happened to Reeva Steenkamp, and to Trayvon Martin, to Kendrick Johnson, to … ad nauseam. I wonder if it matters to these arrogant lying murderers that by in large, people really do know what they did.

    • Pdeadder says:

      I don’t think he’ll spend one day behind bars.
      His x girlfriend said he used to bite and pinch her.
      She also said he locked her in his house with no food and said he would be back shortly but was gone for hours and hours and he shut off his cell phone .
      She also said he made her sit on what he called a naughty step when he was angry.
      I just don’t understand why this did not come out in court.
      She was barely 17 when she was dating him.

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