As Oscar Pistorius returns from his forced holiday at Weskoppies, we examine the most exciting and interesting courtroom moments to date, well in time for Judge Thokozile Masipa’s verdict
As Oscar Pistorius returned to court this week, the end of his trial and his subsequent sentencing may finally be on the horizon. Judge Thokozile Masipa has spent weeks listening to both the prosecution and the defence presenting their cases, but in a final blow to the defence it has turned out that the results of Pistorius’s psychiatric evaluation would fail to give him a leg to stand on: Pistorius was not suffering from any generic anxiety disorder, as the defence had claimed. However, it is for the court to decide whether psychological consequences of his lifelong disability have left his personality vulnerable.
It’s been a turbulent four months for the award-winning athlete, as much as it has been for the South African public and indeed the entire world media, as no celebrity murder trial had managed to attract so much attention and focus since OJ Simpson twenty years ago. Pistorius even got his own TV channel in SA dedicated to rehashing the proceedings each day, as embarrassing details of his private life – from the fitting of his prostheses to his alleged crying like a girl – were broadcast around the globe.
We shed tears with him as well as with Reeva Steenkamp’s family, as the notorious Pretoria courtroom was brought into our living rooms every day, and still continues to dominate the airwaves worldwide.
Here’s a reminder of the top ten moments that made us hold our breath in astonishment, as the trial of the decade took its whirlwind course. Whatever the verdict, we will never look at bathroom doors the same way again…
EXHIBIT A – Screams in the dark
Michelle Burger’s description of the “bloodcurdling” screams that came from Pistorius’s residence on the night of the murder are likely to become pivotal in any future Hollywood movie based on the athlete’s life. Oscar Pistorius’s traumatised neighbour insisted she wouldn’t be able to get those cries out of her mind for the rest of her life. The accused insists, however, that it was his high-pitch screams crying for help, which she had heard. When defence lawyer Barry Roux challenged Burger on her version of events, pins held back from dropping in the courtroom floor; the tension in the courtroom was more than tangible. We have ascertained in the meantime that the prison choir is looking for a counter-tenor in case Pistorius ends up having to do time.
EXHIBIT B – Watermelon zombies
We also learned that this wasn’t the first time that Pistorius had fired at close range at an organic object. Courtroom replays of privately filmed footage, originally obtained by Sky News, showed Pistorius shooting a watermelon into smithereens at a firing range game, using expanding bullets and displaying his mild obsession not only with ammunition and guns but with a whole host of other strange oddities as well. While shooting at imaginary zombies – everyone’s favourite target practice – Pistorius was also recorded saying, “it’s not as soft as brains, but f*ck it’s a zombie stopper.” The unfortunate watermelon was then compared to the lifeless body of Steenkamp, with gruesome images broadcast live showing her head having suffered a similar fate.
EXHIBIT C – Forgive them for they know not what they do
While Oscar Pistorius kept insisting that he didn’t have time to think before he discharged his gun, he was most certainly prepared to cause maximum damage at the time. His initial claim and defence focusing on protecting himself against a perceived intruder changed more and more towards insisting that he was operating on autopilot on the fateful Valentine’s morning, when Reeva Steenkamp was killed. But with his recent psychiatric evaluation ruling out general anxiety and stress disorder, it is unclear why he would have felt compelled to operate almost in the manner of a somnambulist.
EXHIBIT D – Liquid discouragement
The gory images of Steenkamp’s bloodied body aside, the trial went through a series of various bodily fluids taking focus away from the actual courtroom arguments presented. Oscar’s tears, whether fake or genuine, were the least of all concerns when he was also repeatedly recorded vomiting to the point of exhaustion, causing the trial to be adjourned on nearly a daily basis. For an athletic man, who claims that he still wakes up from nightmares and smells blood regularly, this might appear reminiscent of the lady who doth protest too much. However, whatever the story may be with his projectile vomiting, none of Pistorius’s bodily functions could match the sheer bile of hate you see in June Steenkamp’s eyes, as more arguments are brought against the Olympian every day.
EXHIBIT E – Cape Fear
How did courtrooms ever operate before the advent of modern technology? With full access to intimate messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp, the relationship between the two was laid out for the entire world to see with even less affection than can be found on a cold body laid out at the morgue. While the usual pleasantries, smiley faces and affirmations between the two were touched upon, the focus of the courtroom turned to regular bouts of disharmony between the couple. With Steenkamp sending Pistorius a message on WhatsApp on one occasion, saying, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me,” the prosecution had found the bait it had been looking for all along, claiming that Steenkamp had fled to the bathroom that fateful night after another fight with Pistorius, and had locked the door because she was frightened of him all along.
EXHIBIT F – The wrath of Gerrie Nel
The entire nation came to love and hate Prosecutor Gerrie Nel. His courtroom tactics speak to the lingering teenager within all of us, still afraid to come clean to our mothers about some minor transgression for fear of being reprimanded. Never losing form or stepping out of character, Nel nailed Pistorius on nearly every one of his statements and presented the court with an alternative explanation backed up by evidence every time. At the height of his strategy, Gerrie Nel told Pistorius that his defence was not only untruthful “but it’s so improbable that it cannot be reasonably, possibly true.” When he proceeded to ask why Steenkamp had never identified herself from behind the toilet door, Pistorius’s claim that she may have been terrified of the situation was struck down by Nel’s explanation that she knew fully well what was going on, that she was talking back to him from behind the door, and that Pistorius then shot her out of spite.
EXHIBIT G – Oscar’s greatest fans
Never in the history of ventilation, air-conditioning and man-made cooling systems has a fan gained so much attention as in the case of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Did he or didn’t he get up to move those two fan from his balcony into the room, as he recounted the courtroom? Why would anyone do such a thing in the middle of the night and how could the noise of the supposed burglar, whom later it would turn out he allegedly had mistaken Reeva Steenkamp for, be so well timed that he perceived it right at the same moment as when his business with these two ventilators had been finished? The mind boggles, but the fans remain silent.
EXHIBIT H – Crazy old bat, part I
Pistorius’s trial was also one of the few occasions in recent history that cricket bats featured legitimately anywhere outside a cricket pitch. Discussing the corrects angles, forces and momentum involved in tearing down a wooden toilet door with a bat became a science in its own right for a few weeks. Meanwhile, comparing the noises of the cricket bat banging down on that infamous door against gun shots, would make even the greatest of cricket enthusiasts question his or her sanity. Pistorius even had to get up and demonstrate to the courtroom how he had done it, demonstrating full swing and everything else involved in the perfect door-unhinging bat. He is still waiting for a future endorsement from Cricket SA in the meantime.
EXHIBIT I – Crazy old bat, part II
The Pistorius trial was interrupted from the beginning by a woman only identified as “Annamarie”. Her previous attempts to disrupt Pistorious’s bail hearings and her constant need to make contact with him and with the court, claiming that she has some key evidence which is being ignored, are at the very least annoying to listen to, but nothing short of contempt. But what is ignored here is that she could possibly hold interesting information for the trial, if anyone took her seriously for a second. She has insisted from the beginning that Pistorius needed psychiatric evaluation on account of his relationship with his deceased mother, whom “Annamarie” claims to have been acquainted with. It looks like the deranged woman got what she had wanted – but the results from Weskoppies may not be to her full satisfaction after all.
EXHIBIT J – To be or not to be anxious
The question that kept us awake at night for the past month was: is he or isn’t he mental? That was the whole point of the psychological evaluation, which Pistorius had been ordered to undergo at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital. The final result was by all accounts overwhelmingly negative – much to the disappointment of those who still believe that a man and his gun have a rightful place in South African society. Dr Merryll Vorster’s recommendation to send Pistorius to the facility was even cut short by a few days, after the team of experts had fully determined that Pistorius should get a clean bill of mental health. The report is likely to work against Oscar Pistorius both for the rest of his trial as well as for his sentencing period, attributing him with full mental capacity at the time of committing the crime. However, the defense continues to argue whether Pistorius’s disabilities wouldn’t limit his psychological outlook to “fight or flight” responses in most instances of (perceived) danger.
BONUS – Tannie kannie help nie
Did you know that Oscar Pistorius’s aunt, Micki Pistorious, is South Africa’s leading murder case profiler and investigator, being an expert on South African serial killers? However, due to her close connection to her nephew, there’s nothing she can do or any way she can get involved in the court case, disabling the legal system from having access to one of the most prolific criminal scientists in the country. Jammer.
By Sertan Sanderson, 2014