This morning we woke up to the news that Oscar Pistorius had been acquitted of murder charges in the death of Reeva Steenkamp. That, at least, was how the headlines played it. The reality is slightly more complicated. Join me below, as I explain things to the angry-feminist voice in my head.
What the hell? Reeva Steenkamp is dead, after all.
Hold up. Pistorius wasn't acquitted of all charges. The judge simply said she didn't think that the prosecution had proved that Steenkamp's murder was premeditated, which means she's not convicting him on the premeditated murder charge. He still has three gun charges on his indictment, and according to all accounts the judge left the door open to convicting him of what, in South African law, is called "culpable homicide." So, still murder really, just a lesser charge.
But she adjourned the session without explaining why before finishing her verdict, so we have a cliffhanger here.
Can I blame the jury?
But under a useful quirk of South African criminal procedure she has to spend hours explaining her verdict while delivering it, which she spent about three hours doing in this first half of it.
Why doesn't she think the murder was premeditated?
That's not quite what Judge Masipa said in court. What she said is that the evidence presented by prosecutors doesn't prove the murder was premeditated beyond a reasonable doubt. "Premeditated" in South Africa means the same thing as it does here — it means that the murderer planned to kill someone. And the judge found holes in that theory. She said she didn't find either the arguments or the soft words that the couple had over WhatsApp to prove anything about their relationship. "Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable sometimes," she reportedly said. She said that witnesses who said they heard a woman screaming could have been mistaken. In other words she seemed to believe the version of events which goes something like: he grabbed the gun and shot it off without thinking about what he was doing.
So, she just bought his bullshitty story about fearing an intruder and self-defense hook, line and sinker?
No. Judge Masipa said he was a "poor witness." She catalogued his various inconsistencies. She also apparently distinguished him from the majority of South Africans: "Many people in this country have experienced crime, but they have not resorted to sleeping with a firearm under their pillow."
Okay. But what happens to him now?
That last remark of Judge Masipa's is revealing of where she'll end up, I think. The key element of culpable homicide in South Africa is negligence. And in finding negligence, a court must evaluate what a "reasonable person" would think and do in the same circumstances. A reasonable person, Judge Masipa seemed to suggest, would not necessarily have a firearm under his pillow.
Reports also suggest she directly termed his conduct negligent, although without a full transcript that's hard to verify, and I haven't seen a quote where she says that yet.
All the same Pistorius seems to be barreling towards a culpable homicide conviction, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years, but usually about five according to most sources.
So I should try to keep my anger in check for now?
Anger has its productive uses. If you can find some good way of channelling yours I'm not going to dissuade you from it. Because if Pistorius gets a mere five years the fact that he will still have been convicted of something will ring hollow, yes. Might as well be prepared.
[Image via Getty.]