The tiring and at times farcical Oscar Pistorius trial took a strange twist on Thursday as defence and prosecution continued to argue in mitigation and aggravation of his sentence. The story, however, is coming to an end. By GREG NICOLSON.
Like an unnecessary plot twist in a Shonda Rhimes series, the trial saw drama on Thursday featuring a brute, a grieving sister and the fallen athlete. I saw none of it myself – it’s hard to see anything beyond the shoulders of Marc Batchelor and his proteined cohorts – so the story is second-hand, from the mouth of Carl Pistorius.
Aimee Pistorius is the stoic, grieving sister. She’s been at at Oscar’s side throughout the trial, passive, occasionally crying and stealing a moment with her brother to hold hands, seeming almost connected to his anguish. She has dark hair and a pale complexion, has been dressed in elegant grief. If Oscar has played the bereaved accidental killer, she’s the epitome of the innocent, fragile family member, dignified, loyal and attractive.
Mikey Schultz is Marc Batchelor’s mate. The Batch is connected to the case, slightly: the soccer star was called into a meeting with police and Pistorius after they had words following the Olympian’s reported threat that he would break Quinton van den Bergh’s legs for talking to his girlfriend at the time, Sam Taylor. Batchelor found Pistorius had a bad temper and could be controlling of women. He wasn’t exactly a key witness.
Schultz arrived mid-session on Thursday, missing the applause for Judge Thokozile Masipa’s birthday, and joined Batchelor and Taylor, as well as Jared Mortimer, who has had a run-in with Pistorius, and Schultz’s friend, heavyweight boxer Mark Strydom. Together they looked like Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors in shirts from Biceps, Biceps & Pectoral.
Schultz, who received criminal amnesty when he confessed to the shooting of mining magnate Brett Kebble, then, according to Carl, mouthed “fuck you” to Aimee. She was in tears. The Pistorius family was distressed. There was talk of defence advocate Barry Roux submitting an application to ban Schultz from the courtroom. Schultz, the upstanding citizen, denied it.
“They are the victims once again. The Pistoriuses are clearly a bunch of liars along with Oscar,” he was reported to have responded. After the incident allegedly took place Schultz stood outside with Batchelor and friends taking pictures with Sam Taylor and Reeva Steenkamp’s friends the Myers sisters. The motley coalition calling for justice were memorialising their fight.
Reeva. In between the drama and constant adjournments, the fourth day of sentencing procedures did feature some justice-related discussion. Steenkamp’s cousin Kim Martin continued her emotional testimony. “I did not feel the apology was genuine. I remember crying and was brought back to the reality of why we were here, which is Reeva’s death,” said Martin on the apology delivered by Pistorius during the trial. Roux countered by saying the former athlete wanted to write to the Steenkamp family, but was advised not to.
“I’m very fearful of the accused,” said Martin. She has tried to put him out of her mind and her family does not mention Pistorius at home. “I really believe Mr Pistorius needs to pay for what he has done. We just feel to take somebody’s life, to shoot somebody behind the door who is unarmed, who is harmless, needs sufficient punishment.”
Martin doesn’t feel the punishment suggested by defence witnesses, three years of correctional supervision with strict conditions and 16 hours of community service a month, is enough. “I can say honestly to the court that I feel Mr Pistorius needs to pay for what he’s done, for taking Reeva’s life, for what he’s done to my uncle and to my aunt, for what he’s done to the rest of my family but also for what he’s done to his family.”
The state’s final witness in aggravation of sentence for Pistorius’s charges of culpable homicide and illegally discharging a firearm was acting national correctional services commissioner Moleko Modise. He testified that the prison system, in particular Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru facility, is able to cater for someone with Pistorius’s disabilities. He said that, if sent to jail, Pistorius’s health would be assessed within six hours after which he would almost certainly be sent to the hospital ward, which has ramps, rails and baths to assist the disabled. Pistorius could get a single cell if he were deemed vulnerable. Prosthetics cannot be taken away from an inmate unless on advice from a medical professional and prisoners have access to numerous oversight mechanisms, said Modise.
“There should be no doubt in the minds of South Africans that Mr Pistorius and any other inmate with disabilities will be accommodated properly,” said Modise, whose team conducted an oversight visit to Kgosi Mampuru on Wednesday. His testimony cast doubt on the testimony of social worker Annette Vergeer who claimed Pistorius would be vulnerable because of his disability and could not be rehabilitated in a jail.
For the defence, Roux questioned Modise on whether the strains on the prison system would make it difficult to give Pistorius necessary psychological and physical treatment. There are 7,000 inmates at Kgosi Mampuru, with only five psychologists and one resident doctor, but Modise said other doctors also visit the facility and inmates can see specialists at their own cost. The correctional services official did not know of reports that the leader of the 26s in the prison had threatened Pistorius. When presented with figures that show an increase in assault and torture in jails, Modise blamed media agendas.
While Modise said the prisons could cater for Pistorius, an official from his department has testified that the accused could be given a sentence of three years correctional supervision; although the official’s reasoning came under intense pressure. In addition, others testified that Pistorius would get the best care in the community environment and he has shown remorse and can still benefit the community.
The prosecution earlier indicated it might call more witnesses, potentially from the beefed-up crew in the gallery, but decided not to – good call. To send Pistorius to prison, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel is relying on arguments that the crime showed a high degree of negligence, has had a brutal effect on the Steenkamp family, and prisons are ready for the athlete (they even have gyms and athletic meets). Both legal teams have finished presenting witnesses and return on Friday for closing arguments. DM
Photo: South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius reacts on day four of sentencing procedures at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, 16 October 2014. Pistorius faces charges of culpable homicide, for the death of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who he shot through a bathroom door in February 2013. EPA/ALON SKUY/POOL