Opinion: Will the O.J. defense work for Oscar Pistorius?

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius leaves court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Tuesday.
(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday told a South African courtroom — and the world — his version of what happened the night he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year.

It was quite an emotional tale.

But was it the truth?

Sure, he cried and cried. Just as he did on Monday. But he didn’t throw up, as he did during earlier testimony in the case. Nevertheless, the judge adjourned the trial to give Pistorius time to compose himself.


So clearly Pistorius is upset. Clearly he wishes Steenkamp weren’t dead. Clearly he wishes he weren’t on trial.

But does that make him innocent?

Plenty of folks watching this case are making the inevitable comparisons to the O.J. Simpson trial. Even though in South Africa, Pistorius’ fate hangs on the decision of one person, the judge. (Makes for an interesting question: How would the Simpson verdict have gone if Lance Ito had been the lone vote?)

But both cases, I think, are about a basic question: What do we really know about the person on trial?


Prosecutors tried to paint O.J. Simpson as an angry bully, someone who beat Nicole Brown Simpson, someone capable of getting so angry that he would kill her. (Yes, there was plenty of forensic evidence, but we’re talking motive now, not DNA and blood samples.)

In the end, I think, the jurors didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy the other evidence either, perhaps, but mostly they didn’t buy that image of O.J. Simpson. They were asked to believe that the smiling O.J. of TV commercials and sports broadcasts and movies — the O.J. they knew — was also an angry man capable of beating up, even killing, his ex-wife. Nope. Didn’t wash.

South African prosecutors are trying to do much the same. Forget the heroic image of Pistorius, they’re saying. Forget the Pistorius you think you know. The real man is someone in love with guns, someone with anger issues, someone capable of getting so angry that he could kill a person, even someone he loved.

Of course, in Pistorius’ case — unlike Simpson’s — there’s no question of who killed whom. Pistorius acknowledges firing the fatal shots; he just insists it was a tragic accident, not an argument that got out of hand.

But beyond the evidence, and the testimony, the judge in his case will be forced to grapple with the same basic issue that Simpson’s jurors did: Who is the real Oscar Pistorius? And is he someone who could get so angry that he could kill?

O.J.’s jurors were just human beings, ordinary citizens, not judges. They said no.

Pistorius’ “jury” is a single judge. She alone must decide his fate.

But she’s also a human being. Will that make a difference again? I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to watch it unfold.



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