Two Deaths, Two Systems of Justice

Explore:  Athletes Jury Trial Murder

Two events:

  • In February of this year, 26-year old Olympian Oscar Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp in Pretoria, South Africa. Sketchy facts of the case tell us Mr. Pistorius was awoken during the night and mistook Ms. Steenkamp for an intruder and shot at her behind a closed bathroom door before realizing his mistake. Ms. Steenkamp died in his arms.
  • In June 2008, 31-year old Travis Alexander died after having his throat cut, being shot in the head and suffering multiple stab wounds in his Mesa, Arizona home. Evidence obtained during the search led law enforcement to his ex-girlfriend, Jodi Arias. Ms. Arias was charged with the murder of Mr. Alexander and convicted. At present, her sentence is uncertain with prosecutors pushing for the death penalty.

Two people dead in two different countries. The only similarity between the two is that both victims were killed by romantic partners. In the case of Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp, the couple was considered to be very close. In contrast, Mr. Alexander noted to friends that Ms. Arias was stalking him.

The trial and jury deliberations of Ms. Arias was termed a media circus. Lurid details were offered to the court and the public throughout 18 days of testimony by Ms. Arias. In South Africa, while the judge in the case has warned of a trial by media, the matter will be decided in a starkly different manner than if Mr. Pistorius were tried in the United States.

The case of Mr. Pistorius will be decided by a high court judge or magistrate without a jury. While assessors may assist the judge, the focus of the trial is on the impartial assessment of the evidence of the case, not how well either side can inform, persuade or play to a jury.

Two murder cases, two dramatically different forms of criminal justice. Time will tell the consequences of both.