The media has been buzzing and swarming fanatically ever since the first headlines appeared about Oscar Pistorius and the alleged premeditated murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Stenkamp.
The mere fact that those inflammatory words were used in the initial headlines indicate the judgmental, knee-jerk, and disturbing inclination today by the court of public opinion to decide who did what when, where and why as soon as a body is discovered, using words, such as premeditated and accused and murderer, that are potent enough to taint any jury pool anywhere in the world in any language.
When I read the first accounts as stated by the prosecution, my gut started humming, just as I knew my dad’s would if he were still alive, and I thought, “something isn’t right here.” The investigator just saw a scenario that fit and was easy and convenient, and lazily decided right then and there, “this guy did it, and he did it deliberately, end of story.”
Regretfully, the public today makes up its mind about these kinds of incidents not based on any kind of thoroughly investigated and proven evidence, but on what they read in the media; a body less informed, less professional and with lower standards than at any time in recent history.
As an ethicist, it is my job and privilege to view events and issues through the spectrum of values and start by asking the same core questions: Is it fair, is it honest, is it respectful and is there a high standard of integrity reflected in specific actions and words.
I came by my interest and experience in trial law through a the gift of birth and fate; my late father was one of the most brilliant criminal trial lawyers in this country from the mid-1940s until his death in 2001, and several of his cases will live on in the annuls of the history books. He usually defended, although he started out in prosecution, and in at least three memorable instances that I can recall vividly from the 50s and 60s, he saved innocent men from being convicted of premeditated murder, even when all the initial circumstantial evidence was staked up against them and hope seemed dim, even impossible.
Studying by his side, I learned to recognize the nuances between premeditated murder and a crime of passion.
In one case, armed with nothing but his amazing gut and weeks of research, he secured an appointment, drove into Manhattan and convinced the renowned Medical Examiner, Milton Halpern, to exhume the body and redo the autopsy. That subsequent forensic evidence and testimony freed a wrongfully-accused man of the death of his wife. Interestingly enough, this was a couple known to have a stormy marriage. But having arguments and fighting is not the same as committing murder in any language, even though sadly, they are often on the same path to doom.
Dad’s work ethic and legacy also taught me many invaluable lessons, including “don’t judge on the basis of what appears to be true.” If something looked simple and a slam-dunk, chances are it wasn’t. He would often say, “I’d rather let ten guilty men go free than have one innocent man convicted.”
Now, I might end up being very wrong about the Pistorius case. He might be guilty as hell. But we don’t know that for certain yet. And in reality, no one will ever really know, except Oscar Pistorius himself, what really took place that night. Whatever that truth may be, he is going to have to live with the horror of it on his own Inner Bottom Line for the rest of his life.
I also don’t know how Mr. Pistorius is really perceived in South Africa beyond the headlines we’ve all read related to his iconic sports and modeling career. Perhaps he’s irritated or intimidated some folks because of his accomplishments and success and now, this case offers them a way to “pay back” and put this guy in his place. We don’t know that, either. As I said, it all seems “off” in some subtle way.
And on The Inner Bottom Line, trusting your instincts is essential. At the same time, it requires not applying judgment based on emotion but rather on fact, for to do so is unfair, disrespectful and abusive.
Interestingly, after being destroyed in cross examination by the defense attorney in the courtroom this week for making false statements and tainting the crime scene, the detective who investigated the Pistorius crime scene and brought the charges has now been removed from the case after being charged himself with attempted murder in another case.
In a February 21st article in the NY Times, Mr. Pistorius’ defense lawyer, Barry Roux, said, “The poor quality of evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case.”
How this case will end, and whether integrity and justice will be handed down remains to be seen. But what is just as concerning as an innocent man being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit is the damning reality and abuse associated with our proclivity to quickly, ignorantly judge without any solid knowledge or proof.
If this were you and you found yourself in a similar situation, how would you feel about the public doing that to you? Sometimes taking a walk in someone else’s shoes, even if they don’t fit, puts an entirely different spin on the way we see the truth of our actions.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com, or call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” at 661-449-1425 with your questions. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
Kindle and audio versions along with the hard cover of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life, are now available on amazon.com.