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A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year

A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year

REUTERS

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius.

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius.

June and Barry Steenkamp in court in Pretoria.

June and Barry Steenkamp in court in Pretoria.

Oscar Pistorius rubs his eye in court in Pretoria after earlier questioning by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Oscar Pistorius rubs his eye in court in Pretoria after earlier questioning by state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria.

Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria.

Pistorius's lawyers sau that Judge Thokozile Masipa should not grant prosecutors permission to challenge her decision to acquit Pistorius of murder for shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door

Pistorius's lawyers sau that Judge Thokozile Masipa should not grant prosecutors permission to challenge her decision to acquit Pistorius of murder for shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door

June and Barry Steenkamp, parents of the late Reeva Steenkamp, leave court in Pretoria, after Oscar Pistorius was handed down a five-year sentence by judge Thokozile Masipais for killing his girlfriend Steenkamp last year.

June and Barry Steenkamp, parents of the late Reeva Steenkamp, leave court in Pretoria, after Oscar Pistorius was handed down a five-year sentence by judge Thokozile Masipais for killing his girlfriend Steenkamp last year.

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A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year

In an extract from her book, June Steenkamp recalls the day she found out her daughter was shot and the trial of Reeva's killer, Oscar Pistorius

Dromedaris Road, Seaview, Port Elizabeth. We are up and about before dawn. Barry sets off for the stables at Arlington Racecourse to prepare his horses for their morning exercise. I potter out to the overzealous dogs - and little Moby Dick, Reeva's dachshund - to give them their breakfast. The sun rises just before 6 am. I'm preoccupied with thoughts about the day ahead, about supervising progress at the Barking Spider, a pub we're building at the Greenbushes Hotel on the Old Cape Road, when my mobile phone rings.

A voice introduces himself as Detective Hilton Botha.

'Hello, is that June Steenkamp?'

'Yes.'

'Do you have a daughter, Reeva?'

'Yes.'

'There has been a terrible accident.'

'What kind of accident?'

'Your daughter has been shot.'

Pause.

'You'd better tell me RIGHT NOW if she's dead or alive.'

'I'm sorry. I'm afraid she has passed on.'

He says he thinks it looks like an 'open-and-shut' case. 'There were only two people present - your daughter and Oscar with the gun.'

I've heard enough. I'm hysterical, screaming, sobbing uncontrollably. This cannot be true.

How can Reeva be dead? I can still hear her chattering away to me last night, telling me that she is arriving at her boyfriend's house to cook him a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, that they are planning a quiet evening, that she's sending money for our cable TV subscription so that we can watch her in the new series of Tropika Island of Treasure, which airs this weekend, and that she loves me. Big kiss!

I visualise the police searching for my number on the contacts list on Reeva's phone - Mommy BlackBerry - while she . . . I don't let my mind go further. I manage to phone Barry and tell him he must come home immediately.

Barry drives home from the stables thinking one of the older dogs has died. He misunderstood my hysterical sobs. When he hears the bitter truth, he goes into a truly terrifying state of shock, trembling violently, and asking over and over how, how, can Reeva, our beautiful baby, be dead. She was our whole life, our laat lammetjie, a precious late lamb, the only child we had together, the backbone of our extended family and the glue - let's be frank - in our relationship.

Almost immediately the press are outside our little rented house in Seaview. Flowers and notes of sympathy start arriving from all over the world. Princess Charlene of Monaco sends a bouquet. Barry looks to see if there is any personal message from the man who shot her among the tributes, but there is only a bouquet sent with an impersonal line from his management agency office.

Limbo

The trial - The State vs Oscar Pistorius - was scheduled to start on March 3, in Pretoria. Before I spent my first long day sitting on those hard court benches - perched just behind Oscar himself, noting the grey patch in his hair - I prepared for what I knew was going to feel like a horrible exposure. I knew my presence would make Oscar feel uncomfortable. I was praying for answers.

Barry wanted to be by my side in court, the doctors advised him to stay away. He remains broken by what has happened to Reeva. Two months after her death he suffered a stroke. One day after breakfast he opened a newspaper report about the upcoming trial and it broke him into pieces. He became delirious. He didn't know who he was or where he was. He couldn't speak and one side of his face collapsed. We rushed him to the doctor, who discovered a blood clot had reached his brain. After treatment, his face recovered, but he was not coping very well.

When I first met Barry he was doing amateur racing. He's been training horses for 40 years now. It's been up and down in terms of financial stability. Two years ago, some big owner took him out to the tune of a couple of hundred thousand rand, so Barry had to close his stables.

He sat there, depressed, smoking, and then this happened . . . It was blow upon blow because Reeva, of all people, was so proud of seeing him in his racing environment. She loved helping him in the yard, hearing about his prospective winners.

Reeva was always aware that money did not grow on trees in our garden. When she was nine or 10, she won R900 on the horses and took it straight into school and approached the bursar to put it in for her school fees! And sometimes she would tell me to behave because she was 'goody two-shoes', as I used to remind her affectionately.

The trial

I was steeling myself for the moment I would see Oscar for myself for the first time in person. I'd played through this scenario in my mind a hundred times over, but without an ending. How would I feel?

Oscar arrived, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie, and walked straight past, looking resolutely ahead. I was disappointed. I wanted to see him and I wanted him to see me, but he didn't acknowledge me. The whole point was that he must see that I was there. I wanted him to see that I was there representing Reeva.

And then we were under way. The first shock came when Judge Masipa addressed 'the accused' and asked, 'Mr Pistorius, how do you plead on premeditated murder?'

Not guilty.

How did he plead on the other three counts? Not Guilty. Not Guilty. Not Guilty.

I was so shocked. How could he say that when Reeva is dead and he shot her? I did expect him to take some responsibility, not deny everything so emphatically. Then he accused the prosecution of attempting a character assassination, and denied that he and Reeva had been arguing.

At the end of the day, I was numb. I was standing holding an umbrella at one of the bus stops when I saw the Pistorius family waiting to see Oscar safely through the sea of media. They came over to me. One of his aunts squeezed my arm and the other reached out and clasped my hand. Then Oscar's older brother, Carl, came up and hugged me. He held his cheek against mine without saying a word. I didn't mind that. You've got to feel for them too. They were in as much pain as I am, especially the little sister Aimee. Reeva was her friend, you know.

Oscar spent five days giving evidence. He told the court he was on anti-depressants, suffered from terrible nightmares and did not want to ever hold a gun again.

Then the worst bit. I still have nightmares about thinking of her behind the locked toilet door unable to summon help. Here was Oscar, sobbing, describing how he held her body in his arms once he had smashed through the door with his cricket bat. He said he sat over Reeva crying. 'I don't know how long I was there for,' he said. 'She wasn't breathing.'

It was hard to sit there, day in, day out, hearing all the tiny details and all the time to be thinking my baby must have been so scared. That's what kills me to this day.

The verdict

The delivery of the verdict was another grim reminder that we had lost Reeva for ever; it was another prompt to trigger a tidal wave of grief.

At 9.34 am, Judge Masipa arrived, a small and weary figure in her red gown, limping up the few steps to her bench. She began by setting out an overview of the case, and concluded that the issues were limited to whether at the time the accused shot and killed 'the deceased' he had the requisite intention, and if so, whether there was any premeditation.

The deceased. I recoiled at every mention of the word.

And then my heart dropped. Did I detect the first sign that the state's case was found wanting? The judge referred to evidence in the form of technology, such as phone records, being 'more reliable than human perception and memory' and then - another blow - asserted that the state had done nothing to undermine the timeline presented by the defence.

I glanced towards Oscar. He had slumped forward, alone in his thoughts. No one tried to talk to him. Everything she had been saying suggested she was leaning towards Oscar Pistorius's version of events.

Then the thunderbolt that caused gasps all around me. She said the evidence did not support the state's case that this was dolus eventualis (i.e., that he must have known he was likely to kill the person by firing) because he believed she was in the bedroom. Her voice intoned: 'The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder dolus eventualis.'

I didn't look towards Oscar but I later saw the television images of him heaving violently with relief, tears streaming down his face.

Another break, this time for lunch, but we had no appetite for our picnic of crackers. Upstairs in our room, tears flowed. The judge could still find Oscar guilty of culpable homicide, a serious charge, but people feared there was a real possibility that he would now be acquitted.

I started thinking of her bag that was packed as if ready to leave. That she had brought him a wrapped Valentine's Day gift and card and he had nothing for her - she who set such store in occasions. He would have seen her tweet that day - 'What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay' - yet he would disappoint her.

After lunch, Judge Masipa went on to consider the question of culpable homicide and negligence. I was no longer interested in the minutiae. That was it for the day. That was it for our desire to see justice for Reeva. We returned to the guest house devastated. I felt very, very disappointed. Heartsore, actually, and exhausted. Barry and I went upstairs to rest. But we couldn't. I couldn't help but switch on the television coverage. I'd always said I'd hold it in until after the trial, and now my emotions were flooding out. I was angry.

The next day, Oscar arrived in court looking more relaxed than usual. Judge Masipa asked him to stand up and hear the court's official verdict. 'Having regard to the totality of this evidence in this matter, the unanimous decision of this court is the following: 'Count 1: Murder… the accused is found not guilty and is discharged. Instead, he is found guilty of culpable homicide.'

We all knew it had been coming, but her words stunned the courtroom. I heard gasps, sobbing, sniffs as people crumpled. It was unbelievable. The judge was still going over the other counts but none of us on the family bench were taking those in. We were all in pieces. My heart continued to beat but I didn't feel alive. I didn't even think to look at him. I didn't want to see him jubilant, though. I was happy for his family because they've been suffering like we have. They have to believe him, he's family.

During the 40-odd days of the trial, I had often sensed Reeva's presence in the courtroom, but not today. I just felt emptiness.

To be honest I really didn't care what would happen to Oscar because my daughter was never coming back. He was still living and breathing. She'd gone for ever. I just couldn't get my head around this verdict. A court of law had believed his story and we had never believed his story. We wanted justice for Reeva and we hadn't got it.

The media expect me to feel hostility towards Oscar, but I have forgiven him in the Christian sense. I don't want to carry poison in my body about that. You can make yourself ill. I don't want him to suffer, that's not in my heart. We have no feelings towards him, Barry and I, good or ill. We just want the truth and he is the only person who can fill in the missing blanks of what happened that night.

Barry feels slightly differently. Before he can totally forgive Oscar, he wants to sit down and talk. We'd both like to sit down in private with him. I'm sure he'd like to talk to us as well. It hasn't been appropriate until now, but it would get a lot off our chest. What would we say to him? I don't know. I'm still holding everything inside. I just know that if you believe in God, you must forgive. You can't look for someone to blame and carry that burden inside you because you're also going to get sick. Barry had a stroke from carrying that pain. You can't let it destroy you.

© June Steenkamp 2014

'REEVA: A MOTHER'S STORY' by June Steenkamp was published on Thursday 6th November by Sphere at €15.99.

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