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Oscar Pistorius defense using oldest trick in the book--but with wrong audience

A double-amputee with prosthetic limbs sits stoically in South Africa as his murder trial continues.
A double-amputee with prosthetic limbs sits stoically in South Africa as his murder trial continues.
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

The South African judge hearing the Oscar Pistorius case has seen it a number of times; a defense with no witnesses to speak up for its defendant seeks to discredit the police investigation against him by claiming negligence in the handling of forensic evidence. It's the oldest trick in the books, but, surprisingly, it works. In a jury trial, that is. On March 14, 2014, CNN reported that an ex-commander's testimony at Pistorius' murder trial on Friday may be aiding the defense.

For example, Col. G. S. van Rensburg told the court that when he saw the ballistics expert handling the suspect's weapon at the crime scene without gloves he reprimanded him. Everyone knows that forensic evidence is crucial in a criminal case. And the preservation of it and proper collection is critical to gain a guilty verdict against the accused. But in this case the mishandling of the gun is of no real importance, as even the suspect admits he fired it, and that he killed his girlfriend with it--accidentally.

A jury of 12 peers hearing the police neglected to follow proper protocols about handling the gun might still want to punish the police crime scene officials for not doing their job better, and maybe seek to acquit the famous athlete on that mere technicality. Just think about the O.J. Simpson case. But a jury isn't hearing this case. A judge is.

Judge Thokozile Masipa is no stranger to the theatrics of a court room, and the rules that govern the law. And he knows that even if Oscar Pistorius' defense team show the police to be imperfect in their processing of that crime scene, that it is still up to him to weigh all the evidence (including witness statements), and to determine after a preponderance of it all if Oscar murdered his girlfriend in cold blood or not, based upon his interpretation (not that of the defense). And his interpretation will include a complete assessment of all the information, not limited to one or two forensic processing slip ups.

Defense efforts to throw trial discussion onto whether a gun is handled with gloves or not amounts to nothing more than smoke screen in this particular case on Friday. And it shows a desperate bid to put the trial focus on anything that takes away from the fact that the defendant shot four hollow-tip bullets into a locked bathroom door without knowing if his girlfriend was on the other side of it or not.

And that's why the prosecution should focus more on the cold hard facts and what everyone knows happened (especially the defendant), if they want to send this deadly boyfriend away for life. They have numerous witnesses already testifying that Oscar was trigger happy and a "lover of guns." So this isn't a suspect who doesn't already have a reputation for being a little too hot under the collar in circumstances that don't warrant it, willing to shoot off any gun on a whim.

The defense seems to seek to tarnish (and cause the possible dismissal of) more police in South Africa as a result of this case. Especially those who knew that no one would be looking for anyone else's fingerprints on a murder weapon when the killer was confessing he was the one to use it that night. But why should a policeman have his career killed just because this defendant had already admitted he was the one to shoot and kill his girlfriend?

Fortunately for the prosecution, Oscar Pistorius' criminal defense lawyers are playing to the wrong audience this time: the spectators in the court, and the world at large (and a jury that is nonexistent). So while Judge Masipa may be swayed against a premeditated murder conviction (through the discrediting effort against the police), he may not be, too. However, don't expect him to set the Olympic runner free either way, as he also can rule on the side of culpable homicide in this case, and he can give Reeva Steenkamp's killer a life sentence for that charge, too--if he thinks the "Blade Runner" deserves it.

The National Criminal Profiles Examiner has a degree in criminal justice and behavioral forensics, as well as successful experience profiling unsolved homicide cases.

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