All of us, on some level, are afraid of the things that go bump in the night: whether or not we’d like to admit it. We can’t help it, it’s hard-wired into our DNA. At night, when we’re asleep, lightly clothed, and unarmed, is when we’re most vulnerable.
Being a double amputee, Oscar was more vulnerable than most. You’d never think it if you saw him perform of course, but like the rest of us, he too was nervous when he heard a noise that woke him suddenly, he went with his gut…
Noise in the Dark
He had been sleeping soundly when he heard a sound in the dark bedroom. The noise was coming from the bathroom and half-asleep as he was, he didn’t want to take any chances. He reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his 9mm pistol, then walked on his stumps across the room and fired four bullets into the bathroom door.
Those four shots would change Oscar’s life forever and though his had already been a life of struggle, this was something he had never prepared for. Born in South Africa in the late 1980s, Oscar’s family were constantly surrounded by the turbulence of Apartheid. Though for Oscar, the problems of society were hardly to be his biggest concern…
You see, Oscar had been born with fibular hemimelia, which is a congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. By the time he was 11 months old, the doctors told his parents that they would have to amputate his legs halfway between his knees and ankles. The boy was going to have a very rough start to his life.
As it happened, this minor setback wasn’t nearly enough to slow him down in the least. As he grew, his interest in sports became his main obsession and he learned to play them regardless of his disability. He attended Pretoria Boys High School where he played rugby union in the school’s third XV team. He also played water polo and tennis. Most people couldn’t believe it…
Oscar even took part in club Olympic wrestling, and when he was not playing rugby or wrestling, trained at Jannie Brooks’s garage gym in Pretoria, South Africa. He did every exercise that the other athletes were doing including, boxing, skipping rope, and push-ups. Brooks, the owner, once spoke of how it took him six months to even notice that Oscar had no legs.
Sadly, even before the night time incident that would change Oscar’s fate, his life was rife with tragedy. When he was only 15 years old, his mother passed away and it influenced his life in a rather profound way. He worked even harder after that and when he sustained a serious rugby knee injury in June 2003, his rehab hospital introduced him to running: he never looked back…
Running without legs is one of the most challenging things in the world, but not for Oscar. He soon discovered a new type of prosthetic leg called a running blade, which are made of carbon fiber and nearly unbreakable. Oscar was eventually introduced to American prosthetist and Paralympic sprinter Brian Frasure to be fitted for blades by Icelandic company Össur.
Dazzled the World
Within a few years, double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, was dazzling the world with his marathon skills. He even ran in the 2012 London Olympics. His racing blades earned him medals, worldwide glory, and the nickname “Blade Runner”. Of course, with fame also came criticism, and Oscar would soon face more challenges…
Oscar has been the subject of criticism for some years because of claims that his artificial limbs, his blades, give him an advantage over other runners. To combat this, he even had the blades tested to ensure that there was no unfairness when it came to running. With that behind him, he moved on with his life and even began dating fellow South African, Reeva Steenkamp, a model.
Trouble at Home
It was in the early morning hours of Valentine’s day in 2013, that Oscar Pistorius awoke in the night to a noise in his bathroom. Fearing it might be an intruder, Pistorius shot into the bathroom door and killed Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria. He couldn’t believe what he had done, and neither could the world…
Pistorius called the police right away and openly acknowledged that he shot Reeva four times, but explained that he had only done so because he mistook her for a possible intruder. Of course, prosecutors didn’t believe the story. They alleged that the two had been arguing and that Pistorius, a trained gun hobbyist, lost it control intentionally killed his lover in a fit of rage.
The trial commenced quickly but Pistorius’ lawyer argued that his client should undergo psychiatric evaluation to establish whether he could be held criminally responsible for shooting his girlfriend with intent, as the prosecution believed. The judge agreed and the court proceedings adjourned until after he could be tested…
After undergoing a series of psychological evaluations, psychiatrist Merryll Vorster was brought into the courtroom to testify for the defense. She had diagnosed Pistorius with generalized anxiety disorder. This meant that his reaction to hearing someone enter his home might have been enough to force him to act rashly in order to defend himself.
The main argument was that Pistorius, who was a double-amputee, was vulnerable at the time of the shooting. If he believed the person in the bathroom was an intruder then he, walking only on his stumps, would have had no choice but to shoot in order to save himself. Not only that, but he had tried his best to save her life after the shots were fired and when emergency personnel arrived…
One Last Gambit
As the end of the trial approached and Pistorius’ guilty sentence seemed assured, his lawyers came up with one last gambit in order to elicit sympathy and maybe get a lighter sentence. Pistorius approached the bench on only his stumps, having removed his prosthetic legs. The hobbling act was meant to show his vulnerability on the night of the attack.
In general, fifteen years is the minimum sentence for murder under South African law. Of course, of the judge finds mitigating circumstances justifying a lesser penalty, he or she can take those into consideration. Judge Masipa had indeed found reason for a lighter sentence in Pistorius’ case: remorse…
Originally, before Judge Masipa decided to reconsider, Pistorius was convicted of manslaughter, called “culpable homicide” in South Africa. His trial riveted audiences across the globe and when it was all over an appeals court decided to step in. They overruled Judge Masipa’s verdict and determined that Pistorius was guilty of murder.
Shock and Disappointment
Many were shocked that Oscar Pistorius, hero to millions, had been declared a murderer. Judge Masipa, who had anticipated this reaction, increased the sentence by a single year in reply. It was apparently enough to quiet the appeals court but not the court of public opinion who believed that Pistorius should serve more time…
During and after the trial, Pistorius’ anxiety was pushed even further to the limit. He allegedly suffered psychological damage thanks to the, as he put it, “constant harassment from the media.” His lawyers and many of his fans believe that he should be hospitalized for his paranoia, not jailed, and that he was justified in shooting someone he believed to be a threat.
Ellesandro Soares Chaves of the BBC said, “Six years is not long enough when you consider that he hasn’t even been honest about his motive for killing her…He is a murderer and a liar who can’t even own up to what he did and that behavior should add years to his sentence and automatically disqualify him for any leniency.” Sadly, we may never know what really happened that Valentine’s day.