How Will Oscar Pistorius' Reenactment Video Affect His Verdict?
On Sunday, Australia's Channel 7 aired a bizarre video featuring Oscar Pistorius and his sister Aimee re-enacting the events of February 14, 2013 — the night Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed. Now, with the defense's claims that Channel 7 illegally obtained the footage, it's possible that the four-month-long trial will end without a verdict, and will instead be ruled a mistrial.
The video was shot by The Evidence Room, an Ohio-based company that specializes in "Forensic Animation and legal demonstratives." By collecting and analyzing evidence of a case and recreating its events, The Evidence Room has played a key role in several cases and large settlements or payouts. The Pistorius defense team reportedly commissioned the company to create a detailed "video game-style animated recreation of the shooting" in order to legitimize Pistorius' version of events.
The footage depicts Pistorius without his prosthetic legs, mimicking the motions of holding a gun with his right arm outstretched and his right hand balled into a fist. He moves somewhat awkwardly, and appears intensely alert, supporting his claims of believing an intruder to be within the premises. Later, he is shown quickly putting on his prosthetic legs and carrying the lifeless body of a dark-haired woman, his sister Aimee, down a staircase and gently placing her on the ground.
In the trailer for the segment, Pistorius is heard screaming desperately throughout the video, first begging Reeva to get out of the house and to safety, and then in horror when he realizes his lethal mistake. According to Scott Roder, the head of The Evidence Room, the screams heard by neighbors came from a stricken Pistorius, and were not the cries of a woman in fear of her life.
Roder, who served as a commentator when the video aired in Australia on Sunday, said on Channel 7 that the vivid reenactment confirms the fact that Pistorius is "clearly not guilty." Citing the Blade Runner's lack of confidence without his prosthetics as proof, Roder said that his experience with over 1,000 cases convinced him that Pistorius did not intend to kill his girlfriend, and was instead simply panicked homeowner in fear of an intruder.
Roder said that his experience with over 1,000 cases convinced him that Pistorius did not intend to kill his girlfriend, and rather believed her to be an intruder locked in the bathroom.
Was The Video Legally Obtained?
The video was filmed in Pistorius' uncle's house, where the crime scene was carefully recreated, supposedly "some months" after the shooting, according to Channel 7. The broadcaster also claimed that Pistorius' uncle hired The Evidence Room in October 2013 to produce evidence that would help exonerate his nephew. The materials produced by The Evidence Room were later used by the defense team, particularly their analysis of the crime scene, but the video itself was never aired in court, nor did there appear to be any intention to do so.
Consequently, the airing of the video on Sunday night has drawn enormous backlash from the defense team, who claims that Channel 7 acquired the video without legal permission and that The Evidence Room violated the conditions of a privacy contract. Said Brian Webber, a lawyer for Pistorius, "Channel 7 purchased this footage unlawfully...and in breach of the non-disclosure agreement with The Evidence Room."
While the defense team remains confident that the video does nothing but reinforce Pistorius' innocence, with Webber adding that "we cannot imagine how any of the footage would not support Oscar’s version," the "leaked" video might be Pistorius' ticket out of the trial and into a whole new one.
Channel 7 has insisted that they came about the video legally, with executive producer Mark Llewellyn telling The Australian that the network "would not have run the footage if [they] thought [they] had obtained it illegally." Llewellyn also noted that the video "goes to the heart of both the prosecution and defence cases, including the account provided by Oscar Pistorius."
How The Video Could Affect The Trial
But Channel 7 has continued to decline to reveal how and where they obtained the video, which is a key question that may determine whether or not Pistorius and his team can sue for mistrial. Stephen Tuson, an associate law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told news.com.au,
If [the video] was produced by the defense as part of their investigation and preparation for the trial, it’s strictly privileged, it’s confidential and it can not be used. Whatever you tell your attorney is strictly confidential and privileged, if there’s a breach of that, there can be a mistrial.
If this is the case, the current trial would be ruled null and void, and if the prosecution decided to continue trying the case, they would have to start from scratch and find an entirely new judge. At this point, seeking an unbiased judge would be difficult considering the length of the trial and the publicity it has received.
However, Martin Hood, a South African criminal lawyer, told the Spectator that the video might not work in Pistorius' defense if the prosecution decides to use it in its case, as its shows the Blade Runner moving with much more agility than the defense claimed Pistorius able to do.
At the very least, the video's viewers don't seem convinced of Pistorius' innocence, as a poll run by Channel 7 after the airing of the footage showed that 53 percent of respondents still thought Pistorius was guilty.
Regardless, it seems that the trial, originally slated to last a mere two weeks, still has yet to see its last twist and turn.