Crime and Punishment

The Person Behind the Door

December 12, 2015

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Oscar Pistorius

It is true that Pistorius in his evidence did not claim to have wanted to kill the person behind the door. The court held that this meant he could not claim self-defense as a defense against the charge. But the court also held that his lack of self-proclaimed intent was irrelevant because he must have known that four bullets would have almost certainly had a fatal effect. Pistorius was an unreliable and dishonest witness; he probably denied intent to kill because denial at the time he was asked seemed to him (wrongly) to help his case. Dishonesty in a defendant is not in itself proof that he is a murderer. If it was realistically possible, therefore, that he believed the person behind the door to be an intruder, it was realistically possible, indeed probable, that he killed in self-defense. 

The point is that he never believed that it was an intruder behind the door, and therefore was a murderer of his girlfriend, pure and simple. It was a mistake to accord such credence to his story as was accorded. 

The appeals-court judge said that the case was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. I think he was right. And indeed Pistorius was in a tragic situation: For he must never have been able to free himself of the horrible nagging thought, however unjustified, that women liked him for his celebrity rather than for himself. He would therefore have been more than usually susceptible to jealousy, the green-eyed monster that, in my clinical experience, is a provoker of so much violence by men against women (and, increasingly, by women against men), all the more prevalent where relations between the sexes lack formality and structure:

Trifles light as air

Are to the jealous confirmations strong

As proofs of holy writ.

But explanation, with its call to understanding, should not slide down the saccharine slope into exculpation. A man can be tragic and culpable.

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