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Did the Media Coverage of the Oscar Pistorius Trial Affect his Sentencing?

Image Courtesy of scrolleditorial, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of scrolleditorial, flickr.com

Today marked the end of one of the most high-profile, celebrity criminal trials since OJ Simpson back in 1994. A few hours ago, Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the culpable homicide (manslaughter) of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s day 2013. Throughout the seven month trial, all eyes were on South Africa, watching and listening to the criminal proceedings on the TV and radio, opinions divided; but did the broadcasting of this trial have an effect on Oscar’s sentence today?

Early on the 14th February 2013, Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, South African model, Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria, claiming he mistook her for an intruder. This was refused by the state prosecution, and a murder investigation got underway.

A year later a South African Judge Dunstan Mlambo, ruled that parts of Oscar’s murder trial could be broadcasted live on television and radio, to dispel the perception that the rich and poor were treated differently by the country’s justice system. A legal first for the country, this ruling was welcomed by many media outlets and the public across the world.

Although opposed by the defence team because it would create a “media circus” cameras and microphones were fixed throughout the court room and in March 2014 the trial commenced.

The world watched for five months as the state prosecution argued that the athlete, known to many as ‘blade-runner’ had actually killed his girlfriend intentionally after a heated argument late that night, and we heard the defensive arguing that he acted in self-defence.

We heard accounts from a plethora of witnesses who told the world what they had heard that night, what Oscar is like as a person, and we watched as the court re-traced his account of the night.

We saw the raw emotions of the Steenkamp family whilst they relived Reeva’s fate, and heard the brutality of Oscar’s actions.

We saw a remorseful Oscar crying and vomiting, a number of times, that was seen by many as him ‘playing up to the camera’s’, although in my opinion I can’t see how this would be the case.

The broadcasting of the trial thus far, I believe offered the public a fair understanding of both sides of the case and proved Judge Dunstan Mlambo’s ruling was correct as it showed Oscar’s account was clearly under intense scrutiny.

On the 11th September, nearly a year and half after the fateful shooting, Judge Masipa commenced the first day of her judgement of what really happened on that Valentine’s day.

She quickly ruled out the possibility that Oscar would be found guilty of murder due to the lack of evidence put forward by the state proving premeditated murder, but spoke of his use of excessive force and negligent actions against those of a reasonable person. Oscar was therefore found guilty of culpable homicide, a charge that can have a punishment of up to 15 years imprisonment at one end of the scale, and community service and fine at the lesser end.

 

Image Courtesy of Devyatka Site, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Devyatka Site, flickr.com

So why did Oscar get five years imprisonment? Did the media pressure on the case, play a role in Judge Masipa’s sentencing? I believe it did.

The infamous trial came to a conclusion this morning on the grounds that the court should strive for a balance between society and the interest of the accused.

Non-custodial sentences such as house arrest and community service were quickly ruled inappropriate by Judge Masipa due the severity of the incident including the number of shots fired at the door, the fact the deceased, or in Oscar’s eyes the intruder, would have no way of escaping the gun fire, and his previous firearms training. It was ruled that these lesser sentences would send the wrong message to the community, a judgement I feel was reasonable, but was swayed by the broadcasting pressure of the case to be deemed fair.

It was ruled, that although Oscar’s negligence was so severe, the court should be merciful with his sentence. Taking into consideration Oscar’s attempts to resuscitate Reeva, his circumstance at the time of the offence, his disability and the fact a harsher sentence might break him, and possibly the remorseful howling and retching witnessed in court(!), it was ruled that five years was the most appropriate tariff to impose.

Since the ruling earlier, the Steenkamp family have commented that they believe the punishment “is the right sentence” Oscar’s family have confirmed he will not be appealing, and the state prosecution are still ‘deciding’ about an appeal. So for those involved it does seem like the right judgement.

However with reports continuing to be published throughout the day, and suggestions that Oscar is likely to only serve 10 months behind bars and 4 years on house arrest, maybe the defence was wrong to oppose the broadcasting at the beginning of the trial as, if this is the case, the ‘media circus’ has ultimately played into the hands of Oscar Pistorius.

 

 

 

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