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Did Oscar Pistorius Get Away With Murder?


We're spending time this morning reflecting on some of the news events that held our attention in 2014 and first, the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius. He's a South African double amputee who competed as an Olympic sprinter on carbon fiber blades. He shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a bathroom door, claiming he mistook her for an intruder. NPR's Anders Kelto looks back at the trial.

ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: For many years, Oscar Pistorius was a symbol of just about everything good in the world. Phillip de Wet is a journalist with the South African Mail & Guardian newspaper.

PHILLIP DE WET: He was an extraordinary athlete. He was a man with this charming public persona and he had - he had seemed to overcome all of this adversity. You know, it was almost a fairy-tale story, and he played to that beautifully.

KELTO: Then on Valentine's Day 2013, Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp. The media response was incredible.

DE WET: It was a storm. It was an absolute outpouring of coverage.

KELTO: News teams flooded the country. And in South Africa, a 24-hour news channel was launched.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: A channel designed for one purpose - watch, like, tweet, post, follow, engage. A first, Channel 199, the Oscar Pistorius Trial.

KELTO: And if the media were looking for sensational courtroom drama, they definitely got it.

DE WET: It was just a nonstop made-for-TV event, it sometimes seemed.

KELTO: There was the bathroom door through which Steenkamp was shot on display. There was Pistorius taking off his carbon blades to show how small and vulnerable he was. And when Pistorius took the stand, he broke down sobbing.


OSCAR PISTORIUS: I flung the door open - I threw it open. And I sat over Reeva, and I cried. I don't know how long I was there for.

KELTO: The judge stopped the proceedings several times as Pistorius sobbed and vomited into a bucket. So was Oscar faking it? How much vomit was actually in that bucket? These were the questions on front pages and social media for weeks.

In September, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but might get out in just a year or two on good behavior. The state is seeking to extend that sentence. De Wet says Pistorius was bankrupted by legal fees.

DE WET: And certainly, at the moment, unable to make any money or generate an income for himself.

KELTO: Many people think Pistorius got away with murder, literally. Others insist it was an accident. But one thing is clear, he says, we learned lot about the real Oscar Pistorius, about his absent father and alcoholic mother who refused to let him see himself as disabled, about how he was bullied at school, was paranoid in his relationships and fired a gun in a crowded restaurant. Yes, de Wet says, Pistorius was a hero, but that fairy-tale view of him?

DE WET: It was a very unsettled portrait that we had of someone who turns out to be a very complex human being.

KELTO: And that may be the most important lesson of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Anders Kelto, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.