The Slaughter of Reeva Steenkamp
If Oscar Pistorius is telling the truth, he’s a reckless, dangerous killer.
Pistorius’ bedroom is 16 feet wide, with a couch to the side of the bed. If the bed is king-sized, that leaves less than 4 feet of space on either side. If it’s queen-sized, that leaves 4½ feet at most. Imagine trying to maneuver around that bed in total darkness, rapidly and on stumps, without bumping into it or waking Steenkamp. Roux claims that Pistorius, who normally slept on the bed’s right side, switched that night and slept on the left, even though that’s where Steenkamp’s slippers and overnight bag were found. Whatever. If that’s true, it means that Pistorius climbed out of bed, navigated around it to the balcony on Steenkamp’s side, brought in the fan, heard the scary noise, and went back around to his side to get the gun, without bumping into his sweetheart, saying anything to her, or checking to make sure she was there. He didn’t speak to her till he was off on his mission to the bathroom. Hearing no reply from her, he fired through the toilet door anyway. Not once, but four times.
Roux argues that everything Pistorius perceived—the initial noises in the bathroom, the closed toilet door, the person inside maintaining a self-protective silence—was consistent with Steenkamp having gotten up to urinate. But that’s the point. You don’t have to be the world’s hottest ladies’ man to discover that women sometimes get up at night to pee, particularly if you climb out of bed and start moving fans and glass doors. If you come back into the bedroom and hear noise from the bathroom, the simplest explanation is that she’s in there. And if you aren’t sure—and you’re scared—the first thing you’d do is whisper to her or reach for the bed to see whether she’s in it.
What you wouldn’t do, having failed to hear her voice from the bedroom, is start shooting through the toilet door. Roux suggests Pistorius didn’t know the door was locked. That means he didn’t try to open it. Yet, for all his jitters, he aimed with impressive accuracy. In a stall that measured 17 square feet, he put one of his four bullets in Steenkamp’s hip, another in her arm, and a third above her ear. Either he guessed correctly that his quarry was sitting on the toilet—which would be odd for a burglar—or he guessed, in the dark, where in the stall his quarry was hiding.
At this point, apparently, Pistorius started to think rationally. Steenkamp still “did not respond” to his shouts, he recalls. Though the bedroom was still pitch black, “When I reached the bed, I realised that Reeva was not in bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet.” Everything Pistorius pretends he couldn’t have done to spare Steenkamp’s life—deduce her trip to the bathroom, notice her silence, reach for her in the dark—was possible now that she lay dying.
The magistrate who granted Pistorius bail calls these anomalies in his story “improbabilities that need to be explored.” But they’re improbable only if you assume Pistorius is a normal person. If you assume he’s paranoid, violent, and reckless, his version of events begins to make sense.
Pistorius’ father says his son is getting a bum rap. "When you are a sportsman, you act even more on instinct," Henke Pistorius told the Telegraph. "When you wake up in the middle of the night—and crime is so endemic in South Africa—what do you do if somebody is in the house? Do you think it's one of your family? Of course you don't." Oscar grew up with guns, his dad explained. The Pistorius family is a hunting family.
Congratulations, Mr. Pistorius. You've raised, in Oscar, a fine hunter. An animal, in fact. When care and thought were required, he moved with ruthless haste to defend his territory, even at the risk—and the expense—of a young woman’s life. That’s not the prosecution’s portrait of what he did. It’s his own.
William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter:
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.