Pistorius’s tears don’t prove his guilt, or innocence, or remorse, say criminologists

2014-03-11 00:00

CRIMINOLOGISTS said Oscar Pistorius’s emotional reaction yesterday was not an indication of guilt or innocence, regret or no regret.

“You can cry over a lot of things after you have killed someone,” said professor Anni Hesselink of the criminology and security science department at Unisa.

The former senior magistrate explained that people cry because they may be facing imprisonment, or for the victim, or because the accused may be thinking his or her whole future has been ruined.

Criminologist Dr Liza Grobler agrees that Pistorius’s tears after the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp last year and again in court do not signify anything.

“The fact of the matter is he shot Reeva. It will have created a lot of [emotional] shock, regardless of precisely what took place that night. The realisation of the immensity of what he had done, may have overwhelmed him again and he cried.”

This is still no indication of what happened on the fatal Valentine’s morning and supports neither the defence nor the state’s arguments.

“But the defence will probably focus on his sorrow and emotion,” said Grobler, “even if this is no indication of innocence”.

Remorse is not something that can be measured, explained Hesselink. “We do not have an scientific measure … that we can use to measure remorse.”

People reacted differently to the emotion of sorrow. Some withdraw themselves totally, others cry constantly.

“At the end, only the person knows whether it is real remorse or not.”

Many criminals cry, even when they are guilty and already serving a sentence, said Grobler and Hesselink.

“Many become very emotional,” said Grobler. “I worked with one case where a man had shot and killed his girlfriend in a fit or range. He cried, because he was very sorry for what he had done, both to her, himself and their families.

“Then you get criminals who show no remorse for what they did to their victims, but they cry when the realise the impact the deed will have on their own lives.”

Hesselink said only the judge will have to decide if Pistorius showed remorse, and that most people whose lives and future had been shattered, would cry.

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