If Pistorius Is Telling the Truth, He’s a Dangerous Killer

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 26 2013 8:30 AM

The Slaughter of Reeva Steenkamp

If Oscar Pistorius is telling the truth, he’s a reckless, dangerous killer.

Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court, Feb. 20, 2013.
Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings at the Pretoria Magistrates court, Feb. 20, 2013.

Photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

You can also listen to William Saletan read this piece.

The trial of Oscar Pistorius won’t begin for months. But from what he has told us, we already know he’s a reckless, dangerous killer.

On Feb. 14, around 3 a.m., Pistorius was in bed at his house with his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. According to his affidavit,

I woke up, went onto the balcony to bring the fan in and closed the sliding doors, the blinds and the curtains. I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom. I felt a sense of terror rushing over me. There are no burglar bars across the bathroom window and I knew that contractors who worked at my house had left the ladders outside.

Pause right there. Pistorius lives in a hyper-secure gated community that advertises a “solid, electrified security wall,” laser sensors, and biometric locks. Wealthy South Africans move to such communities precisely so they can go outside without fear. At last week’s bail hearing, a police officer testified that there were two dogs outside the window where Pistorius claimed an intruder might have entered. The prosecutor also asked why, if Pistorius feared burglars, he slept with his balcony doors open. Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, didn’t address either point.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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There’s no record of any burglary-like incident at Pistorius’ home. The two incidents he has acknowledged were false alarms. A year ago, the New York Times reported that according to Pistorius, “a security alarm in the house had gone off the previous night, and he had grabbed his gun and tiptoed downstairs. (It turned out to be nothing.)” Three months ago, Pistorius tweeted: “Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking its an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry!” These episodes gave Pistorius plenty of warning that his hair-trigger reactions were rash.

On the night of Steenkamp’s death, was Pistorius too unconscious to think straight? Not according to the sequence he describes. He didn’t bolt out of deep slumber and stumble off with the gun. He got up, retrieved the fan, and closed the blinds and curtains behind him before he heard the noise. The affidavit continues:

I was too scared to switch a light on. I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed. I noticed that the bathroom window was open. I realised that the intruder/s was/were in the toilet because the toilet door was closed and I did not see anyone in the bathroom. … As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself. I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger. I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked and I have limited mobility on my stumps. I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police.

To appreciate the perversity of this story, you have to see the floor plan of Pistorius’ home. His bedroom door wasn’t down the hall, where he’d heard the purported burglar noises. It was in the entryway right next to him. All he had to do was wake Steenkamp and slip out with her. His “limited mobility,” which supposedly prevented him from making it 15 feet to the bedroom door, somehow didn’t deter him from maneuvering 20 feet down the hall toward the danger, and around a corner for another 15 feet to where he thought the intruder was. There, a homeowner ostensibly too terrified to turn on a light in his bedroom, or even unlock his bedroom door and flee, had no trouble firing four shots through the locked toilet door, which offered no escape route. If there really was an armed intruder, this was the course of action most likely to escalate the carnage.

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