Judge Masipa reviewed Pistorius’s case and sentenced him to 6 years in prison. Given that the reviewing court reversed the lower court’s decision and found Pistorius guilty of murder, it is curious that the Court only sentenced him to 6 years. Murderers are sentenced for a minimum term of 15 year in South Africa. In her explanation, the Court stated that there was mitigation in the case; that Pistorius had reason to believe an intruder was in his house, that he was vulnerable on his stumps, and there was no evidence of domestic violence. Her explanation sounds like the argument for the defense that this tragedy was purely an accident and that Pistorius did not harbor the malicious intent to kill Reeva Steenkamp. The sentence is the equivalent of “splitting the baby” or some type of judicial compromise to sentence Pistorius to 6 years rather than 15 or letting him off completely. It probably leaves both sides unhappy, but I have heard many judges state that if neither side is happy with the result, then the outcome is fair.
One can hardly imagine that Oscar Pistorius found guilty of manslaughter at his criminal trial would be found guilty of murder after the prosecutor appealed. That’s because in the US, the prosecutor cannot appeal a verdict and ask the appellate court to find the defendant guilty of a greater crime.
In our system, a jury decides guilty or not, and an appellate court can set aside a verdict only if there was some legal error or newly discovered evidence and force the prosecutor to try the case again. An appellate court can never set aside the jury’s verdict and find that they would have found the defendant guilty of the greater crime or a crime at all if the jury acquitted him.
For Pistorius, he faces a minimum of 15 years. It appears that the judge has some discretion in sentencing him to a lower sentence, but I do not believe that is likely. Pistorius’s athletic career is over.
Why was Sandra Bland kept in jail, and what does it say about us?
It was unbelievable to watch the footage where trooper Encinia pulls Bland out of a car for refusing to put a cigarette. He was only citing her for failing to use a signal. Instead of giving ticket, which frankly was undeserved, he insisted on letting Bland know that he was in charge. He yelled at her, “I will light you up!” So when she didn’t follow his orders, he pulled and dragged her out of her car and threw her to the ground, and to then he arresting her for resisting arrest/assaulting an officer with the original offense was failing to signal.
Too see the video, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/20/us/sandra-bland-arrest-death-videos-maps.html
These actions are unbelievable but despite Bland’s rudeness, why is someone who is sworn to protect and serve escalate the situation by becoming violent? Is it to prove a point? Is it to prove that if one isn’t compliant with the police that the police will physically hurt you? Is it another way of telling our African-Americans that you better be careful even if you are a college graduate with no record because we are in charge? Our history of racial inequality is aggravated when the police fail to act professionally towards people of color.
What is even worse is that the harms done by a single trooper are multiplied by a thousand by a criminal justice system that kept Bland in jail. This was a woman who was moving to Texas to work at Prarie View A&M University. Why was bail set at $5,000 forcing her to stay in jail? Was there a real concern that she was a risk to the community and that she would flee? South County Judge Trey Duhon told reporters that Bland was treated fairly, but is that really the case? How many times do police stop and arrest African-Americans in comparison to other populations? I have read several reports by Attorney Generals and the Department of Justice that highlight that police stop African-Americans at disproportional rates.
And if African-Americans are disproportionally arrested, then it isn’t fair to state that bail was set because that’s what we do so on all cases. She should have been released. Why didn’t a judge, who was selected to be fair, impartial and most importantly just, release her so she could fight her case? If that had that happened, she would still be alive.
Everyone has focused on the trooper’s actions, and yes, we should examine what he did, but we should also examine how bail is used to incarcerate and punish people for no apparent reason. We should consider how bail is being used to lock up the poor, especially our African-American population. See John Oliver’s comments on this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS5mwymTIJU
Aaron Hernandez, former tight-end for the New England Patriots, hired an amazing legal team. They had to concede that Hernandez was at the scene of the murder rather than at a nightclub as he told the Patriots’ owner. However, they have persuasively argued that he was not a participant. Hernandez’s attorney, James Sultan, argued that he lacked a motive to kill Odin Lloyd. Lloyd and Hernandez dated sisters, and appeared to have little contact with each other.
The prosecutor spent forty-five minutes in his closing argument talking about motive when he was unable to show one. That’s a mistake.
Meanwhile, the defense has accused the two drug dealers who Hernandez drove to the scene of shooting Lloyd. The prosecutor argued instead that Hernandez shot the gun. He also argued that Hernandez aided the drug dealers in killing Lloyd by driving them there. Two theories of the case also does not make it easier to convince the jury.
The jury has been out two days. They have asked questions about the possession of weapon charges, which lead me to believe that they have decided on the greater charge of murder. We’ll see. I would expect a verdict today.
In this country where we strive for equality, it appears that police officers are above the law. A chokehold that was banned in 1993 by the NYPD was used by New York Police Officer Pantaleo against an unarmed man who was allegedly selling illegal cigarettes. Let’s assume that Eric Garner was selling cigarettes illegally and not paying taxes to the state of New York. Let’s even assume he had a long record. Nothing justifies his death at the hands of the officers assigned to serve and protect us for a few dollars owed to the state of New York.
Just watch this video and ask yourself, how is it possible that District Attorney Donovan was unable to obtain an indictment? How is it possible that he wasn’t able to get 12 grand jurors to vote to indict from a panel of 23 jurors where the standard is only more likely than not.
There was no justification for using excessive force. Even if Garner was unwilling to let the officers handcuff him, it does not justify choking him to death. There were four officers on top of him, and Garner pled that he could not breathe. Four police officers against a man who is not fighting back. Usually, I am reluctant to weigh in without hearing all of the evidence, but the video alone is sufficient to indict the police. Officer Pantaleo knew that choking another person could be dangerous to human life. He didn’t act out of self-defense and Garner died as result of his actions. That’s manslaughter.
When local prosecutors fail to curb police brutality, the federal authorities need to step in. Instead of paying for body cameras, I would suggest that President Obama provide the Department of Justice with greater funds to investigate and prosecute these types of cases. Excessive force by police officer undermines faith in our criminal justice system.
An article I wrote a decade ago seems just as pertinent now as it did then.
See also today’s post at thinkprogress.org: How did the police kill a man on tape and get away with it?
Finally, we have a decision. Judge Masipa acquitted the blade runner of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp although it is possible that he may be convicted of “culpable homicide” otherwise known as manslaughter.
The judge found the witnesses who allegedly heard arguing between Pistorius and Steenkamp to be unreliable. She believed that those witnesses had failed to separate what they knew personally from what they had heard from others or through the media. She also didn’t find the whatsapp messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp to be anything other than the type of back and forth that exists in any relationship that has its up and downs. As I mentioned in a previous post, the prosecution needed to establish a motive for the crime and were not successful in doing so. The whatsapp messages never had anything direct as “I will kill you” although Reeva Steenkamp had admitted that she was scared that he would “snap” at her. Ultimately, the judge was unconvinced that Pistorius intended to shoot his girlfriend.
As with any big case, media tried to turn it a symbolic representation of a greater problem within society such as domestic violence, but each case must be judged on its individual facts, not on whether it advances some greater cause. Certainly, each of us is against domestic violence and I am personally appalled by how the Ravens only terminated Ray Rice after the video of the assault was leaked by TMZ. However in Pistorius’s case, there was never any evidence that he actually had assaulted Steenkamp previously or that he intended to kill her rather than a person whom he believed to be an intruder. It’s a tragedy of mythic proportions.
I believe that the judge will find him guilty of “culpable homicide” tomorrow.
Oscar Pistorius’s case was suppose to be the case of the Century. It was expected that it would be the most highly publicized trial since O.J. Simpson. Fortunately for Oscar, Flight 370 disappeared and took over the headlines. The trial was also on break for a month due to Easter. Most recently, Oscar’s attorney sought to introduce evidence that Oscar suffers from an anxiety disorder to explain why he was so quick to shoot when he believed that there was an intruder in his home.
The prosecutor, unaware that the defense will present expert testimony, is entitled to have their own doctors examine Oscar Pistorious and determine whether he actually suffers from anxiety. Given that anxiety is typically diagnosed based on self-reporting, I don’t see how the prosecutor’s doctors will have anything useful to say after they interview him. Nevertheless, the trial is in its second hiatus until those interviews are conducted.
More importantly, where is the motive for the crime? In OJ’s case, Nicole had left him and Simpson had a record of domestic violence. Although Oscar has displayed impulsive behavior, no evidence has been introduced to show that he had any motive to kill Reeva Steenkamp.
Was Reeva messaging another lover at the time of shooting? What does her cell phone show? Did Oscar have any reason to shoot her that night? It is not enough to show that Oscar shot Reeva. The prosecution needs more if they are going to be able to successfully convict him of murder.
Last week, I was riveted by Amanda Knox on CNN. She was striking and articulate. Amanda was overcome with emotion when discussing Meredith Kercher (her former roommate) and firmly stated that she had no reason to kill her.
She also pointed out that if she was there (for the murder), “I would have traces of Meredith’s broken body on me, and traces of myself around, around Meredith’s corpse. I am not there. That proves my innocence.”
But does lack of DNA prove her innocence? DNA is most easily detectable when a bodily fluid is left behind such as blood, saliva or semen. It is very difficult to detect a person’s DNA when he or she simply touched an item, unless it was handled regularly by the same person. Although skin cells that we shed may have our DNA, our current means of detecting DNA would not be able to necessarily determine that an item was touched by a particular person. The fact that Amanda’s DNA was not found on Meredith’s body or vice-versa does not prove her innocence just as it would not prove her guilty. One would only expect the attacker’s DNA to be found on the victim’s body if there was sexual contact or if the attacker suffered a cut that bled not the victim’s clothing. Likewise, a victim may not bleed quick enough to leave any DNA on the attacker. Furthermore, even if Amanda’s DNA were found on Meredith’s body, they were roommates and it is possible that DNA could have been left weeks before Meredith’s murder.
Amanda’s DNA was found, however, mixed with Meredith’s blood on the bathroom sink and bidet, as well as in the hallway. That isn’t conclusive evidence that Amanda was involved, but it is suspicious given that they cleaned their bathroom the day before the murder.
At their apartment, Amanda was concerned with Meredith’s well-being because she believed a burglary took place. Her boyfriend, Rafaelle Sollecito, tried to open Meredith’s door, which was locked. However when the police arrived, she did not direct the police to Meredith’s door. Furthermore, it appears that the burglary was staged as broken glass was found on top of scattered items suggesting that apartment was ransacked before the glass was broken.
It is also suspicious that Amanda falsely accuses her boss, Patrick Lumumba, of the murder after she learned that her boyfriend denied being with her during the night of the murder to the police. Meanwhile, a knife with Meredith’s DNA on the blade was found at Amanda’s boyfriend’s home. He claimed that Meredith had come over to his home and cooked with him. However, multiple wtnesses said Meredith has never been to his home.
Is the evidence enough to convict Amanda? We will see what the Italian appellate court has to say.