Unfortunately, I’m riveted with the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa. Pistorius was born without fibulas (calf bones) and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. And yet, with the advent of carbon fiber running blades, heroically went on to become an international track star.
But now the “Blade Runner” is standing trial for the Valentine’s Day 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a law school graduate and stunningly gorgeous model. As a fictional story line in a screenplay it would be instantly thrown in a producer’s trash can filing cabinet. (On second thought, given Hollywood these days, who knows.)
With so many injustices in the world, I had promised myself I wouldn’t get hooked on the trial and yet, hooked I am. That said, I swear I don’t watch soap operas, the Kardashians or TMZ, though I have occasionally mocked them in past columns. (I only hope no one forwards this to Harvey Levin.)
Now I’m asking myself (thankfully, not out loud) why am I so obsessed? And worse, the trial is also making me reflect back on the O.J. wrongful death civil trial here in Santa Monica. That had to be among the most, if not the most, surreal scenes ever to take place in our fair city. Embarrassingly, I admit that at lunch time, I’d bike blocks to the courthouse to see the O.J. circus and wound up wasting countless hours.
I wish I could say I was doing “research” but this was seven years before the Daily Press came into existence in 2001. And it wasn’t exactly typical fodder for my columns at the “Santa Monica Star,” a neighborhood paper that generally consists of upbeat stories as opposed to hard news. (Update: O.J. is reportedly on a hunger strike in a Nevada prison to starve himself to death, which I suppose to some might be “upbeat” or at a minimum “karma.”)
Finding the “real truth” of a story is part of my fascination in these trials, not that we ever really do. The word “truth” is etched in marble at the entrance to the CIA Building in Virginia with the biblical quote (John 8:32) “The Truth Shall Set you Free.” Actually, that’s more than a little ironic given the CIA’s checkered past. And I’m being generous with the word “checkered.”
But I do think there is something to the quote and, while it might appear to be a stretch, it’s a factor for me in these trials, or Watergate, or, most of all, the JFK assassination. Truth was also sought in South Africa, after the abolition of the brutal apartheid regime. A “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was established to promote healing in the country wherein victims testified about the inhumane treatment they endured and hopefully remorseful perpetrators gave testimony in return for amnesty. While South Africa is still riddled with racial violence, it’s likely the truths that came from the TRC prevented an all out civil war.
South Africa brings me back to Pistorius who is currently on the stand being cross examined by the prosecution. I’ve listened to Oscar’s tearful apologies and a part of me feels he’s obviously tormented. I even find myself getting emotional. But a larger part of me is skeptical. And perhaps it’s this uncertainty that I find so compelling.
Pistorius’ story is that he fired four shots into the bathroom because he thought there was an intruder inside only to discover, to his horror, it was Reeva. But why was the bathroom door locked? And apparently two iPhones were found inside. If they had gone to bed, why was Oscar’s Valentine’s present unopened? And why was Reeva dressed? Had they been fighting and, trying to leave, she locked herself in the bathroom out of fear?
Neighbors reportedly heard arguing and screaming. “We heard gunshot, a scream, gunshot, a scream.”
If so, it seems pretty hard to argue that Oscar didn’t know it was Reeva doing the screaming. And, apparently after the shooting, Pistorius’ first call was not to the police but to a friend. Even more puzzling, when a security guard phoned Oscar to see if everything was OK, he reportedly told him “Fine.”
And yet, there’s no question, given Pistorius not having his prosthetics on, would understandably feel far more terror than the “reasonable person” standard which is the basis for the country’s self-defense law. But what about Oscar’s past recklessness with guns, including one supposedly going off in a crowded restaurant?
As I find myself spending more and more time following the trial, there’s no doubt, whatever the outcome, the tragedy is overwhelming. That said, and I hope no one takes offense at this, selfishly, I’m just glad that the trial isn’t within biking distance.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.