Who’d have thought that Oscar Pistorius was not guilty of murder?
At a rough guess, probably nobody, apart from his family, and perhaps one or two of his defence team, but there you have it. Judge Thokozile Masipa has stated very clearly that the prosecution failed to prove its case, and this brings us back to an old principle in law, a principle designed to combat the lynch-mob.
Let me give you an illustration.
Years and years ago, our house was broken into. The thief didn’t get much because we didn’t have much, but he took a treasured clock which was a present from a relative. Police came. They took measurements and photos. They took fingerprints. They took notes and statements. They caught somebody.
I received a summons to turn up at the Circuit Court as a witness and, never having been inside a courthouse in my life, I didn’t know what to do, so I asked my legal friend.
What’ll I do?
Haw, haw, haw he haw-hawed in his best Law Library haw-haw. Go out and have yourself a motherfucker of a meal. Claim for a day’s lost wages and hand the bill to the court clerk.
I did nothing of the sort, because in those days I didn’t know that everybody in the government was crooked and robbing the country blind, so I did my bit to keep us afloat. Probably, by forbearing to buy a motherfucker of a lunch, I might have paid for the cuff of somebody’s Charvet shirt.
I just turned up in court, in my poorly-fitting, cheap and rarely-used suit.
They swore in a jury. They sent them away. There was an old judge, whose name I can’t remember, and after looking over the book of evidence he addressed the police.
You arrested this man because you found his fingerprints on the outside of the window and yet he stated that he had never heard of this address.
This proves one of three things.
He might be a liar, he might have a bad memory, or the Gardai might be liars.
The book of evidence provides grounds for gross suspicion, but the day we start imprisoning people on the grounds of gross suspicion is the day we have a police state.
I was deeply impressed by this old judge and I agreed with every word he said. I agreed with him when he dismissed the case against the scumbag who had robbed me. Better for a scumbag to walk free with my treasured clock than for the State to imprison someone on the basis of bad evidence.
The State has to prove its case so that nobody can accuse law-abiding citizens of a crime and have them jailed without adequate evidence.
Gross suspicion is not a good enough reason to convict anyone, even Oscar Pistorius. It doesn’t matter if I happen to think he deliberately shot Reeva Steenkamp. It doesn’t matter if every troll on Facebook thinks he murdered Reeva Steenkamp. This is not the X-Factor. This is not the Big Brother house. People should not be convicted on the basis of a public vote.
Judge Thokozile Masipa stated it as plainly as possible: the State failed to prove its case and therefore Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murder, no matter how repulsed any of us might happen to be.
Yes, he fired four shots through the bathroom door when he should have known his girlfriend was in there, but in order to convict him of premeditated murder, the prosecution needed to prove that killing Reeva Steenkamp was his intention, and they didn’t.
With a fine sense of dramatic timing, the judge left us hanging for another day before we hear the final verdict, but in all probability Pistorius will be convicted of culpable homicide, known in these parts as manslaughter, and that’s a fair enough result, based on the evidence presented.
Needless to mention, Facebook and Twitter will go demented with outrage but that’s nothing new. Why didn’t I buy up all available stocks of torches and pitchforks when I had the chance?