Is Oscar Pistorius Faking It In Court?

by Lulu Chang

Oscar Pistorius, once a South African hero and an icon for handicapped citizens of the world, has taken a mighty tumble from fame to infamy. During his grueling time on the witness stand, the Blade Runner seemed wracked by seemingly incredibly strong emotions, leaving Pistorius hysterical, crying, and even vomiting in court. And while Pistorius has had no shortage of tears and demonstrations of remorse, speculation has come to light about how legitimate his many breakdowns actually are.

Pistorius' trial is currently on hold and will resume May 5, whereupon the former Paralympian's fate will be determined. For 25 days, Pistorius has appeared in court, and regardless of whether the athlete was on or off the witness stand, he maintained an distraught, heartbroken appearance. Now, prominent South African journalist, Jani Allan, has written an open letter to Pistorius that accuses him of taking acting lessons in order to prepare for the role of his life: that of an innocent man.

Allan, once named by Gallup as “the most admired person in South Africa” and a former journalist for the South African Sunday Times, said in her letter: "I have it from a reliable source that you are taking acting lessons for your days in court." In light of this most recent twist in the Pistorius case, several different parties are weighing in on the truth behind Pistorius' apparent grief. Alan M. Deshowitz, a lawyer and academic who represented such high profile-clients like O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bülow, offered a number of potential explanations for Pistorius' emotions in the New York Times Sunday.

  1. Pistorius is an innocent man who is telling the truth, and is filled with genuine horror and remorse about the tragedy. Considering the gruesome facts of the case and the constant barrage of graphic evidence presented, it comes as little surprise that Pistorius would be traumatized. Photos of a bloody toilet, text messages between Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and questions about the nature of the relationship between the two have certainly taken a toll on Pistorius, and Deshowitz's theory that Pistorius is simply a truly devastated lover does not seem far-fetched. Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder include vomiting, intense crying, and many other behaviors similar to those exhibited by Pistorius. However, South African lawyer Marcus du Toit told the Times that even in the face of the stressful environment of any courtroom situation, he had "never seen someone retching in court." Gerald L. Shargel, a prominent New York lawyer, echoed these sentiments, telling the Times that while he'd had clients who wept consistently throughout their trials, he "never had a client who reached the emotional level of Pistorius.”
  2. Pistorius is lying about what happened, and his guilt stems from having to perpetuate a false story.Deshowitz's second theory is that Pistorius' endless supply of tears and hysterics are a result of guilt, not only for killing Steenkamp, but also for having to maintain a false pretense in front of a jury. This sort of stress would undoubtedly take its toll on any individual, and Pistorius seems nothing if not stressed. Lying causes enormous amounts of stress, which is how polygraph machines work. By tracking the signs of stress, like increased heart rate, blood pressure, and abnormal breathing, polygraphs determine when individuals are more likely to be fibbing than telling the truth. Moreover, maintaining a lie takes an even greater physical toll on the body, according to Linda Stroh, a professor emeritus of organizational behavior at Loyola University in Chicago. "It takes a lot of negative physical and mental energy to maintain a lie," Stroh told U.S. News, and it seems that this negative energy is certainly affecting Pistorius if this theory is true.
  3. Pistorius is "narcissistically sobbing for his own lost life." This is perhaps the most unforgiving of the presented theories, as it assumes that Pistorius is not only a guilty man, but a remarkably selfish one. South Africa does not practice the death penalty, but if Pistorius is convicted of premeditated murder, he faces life in prison with no opportunity for parole for at least 25 years. If Pistorius is found guilty of murder, but it is determined to be a crime of passion rather than a premeditated act, he will receive 15 years in prison. If the jury believes Pistorius' story that he acted in self defense and did not know that Steenkamp was in the locked bathroom, the judge will decide his sentence. Regardless of prison time, however, Pistorius' name and reputation has been irrevocably damaged. A country that once celebrated him for his athletic prowess and his inspiring story as a double amputee has followed his trial in entirely novel ways, as his case is the first to be covered fully on social media and live television. According to NBC News, public opinion is split on Pistorius' guilt, and no matter what Pistorius' fate is, it seems that he will be remembered more for this trial than for his Olympic achievements.