If you’ve been following the Oscar Pistorius trial, perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s something absent from the courtroom in Pretoria, South Africa – something that you normally see in American courtrooms.
“Absolutely, no jury,” trial attorney and TV analyst Heather Hansen said on Ferrall on the Bench. “(There’s a judge, and) there are those two people sitting next to her; they’re called the assessors, and they can help her talk through the facts. The two of them can overrule her, but ultimately it’s going to be completely up to her, which is why (Pistorius) keeps referring directly to her. She’s the one (he’s begging his life to).”
The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic athlete is on trial for the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a South African model and reality TV star who was shot and killed Feb. 14, 2013, at the age of 29.
There are essentially two sides to this story: One story casts Pistorius as a loving boyfriend who shot Steenkamp by accident as he tried to thwart what he thought were intruders; the other casts him as a volatile, abusive hothead who bullied Steenkamp and shot her in a violent rage after an argument.
Pistorius has faced a great deal of scrutiny since Steenkamp’s death, and – during the trial – intense cross-examination. Defense attorneys usually try to avoid having their clients testify, but that wasn’t possible in this case, especially with only one person – Judge Thokozile Masipa – deciding Pistorius’ fate.
“They did not have a choice,” Hansen said. “His defense is self-defense, and there’s no way (Masipa) would ever (rule in his favor) if he hadn’t testified. It’s similar to the (George) Zimmerman trial. The only reason he didn’t have to testify was they had so many past statements from him. Here, Oscar had no choice but to get up there and explain why he believed there was an intruder, why he believed he was in danger and why, therefore, it was self-defense.”
The trial has unfolded, in some ways, like a made-for-TV drama with apologies, tears, sarcastic laughter and accusations of lying taking center stage.
“It’s fascinating to me because the system is just a little bit tweaked from here,” Hansen said. “It’s a similar system in that (you still have to prove your case) beyond a reasonable doubt, but (Pistorius is) talking to the judge. The fact that he got up and the first thing he did was apologize to the family and start crying – that would never happen here. It wouldn’t be allowed. It’s completely irrelevant as to whether he’s sorry. A lot of the drama and the pomp and circumstance that’s gone on the past few days just wouldn’t happen here, so I think it’s fascinating.”
While made-for-TV dramas have a predetermined end time, there’s no telling when this trial will conclude – or when Masipa will reach her final decision.
“The thing that’s going to be a little bit of a letdown is the judge doesn’t have to give her ruling right away.”