Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe found time on Wednesday, June 20th to sentence another scumbag who strangled his pregnant girlfriend, 28-year-old Nicola Pienaar, and stole her mother’s car.
Like Rohde, Oosthuizen inverted the abuse narrative, saying that it was his girlfriend who assaulted him, not the other way round:
He said Pienaar was possessive and had, on several occasions, been aggressive towards him and assaulted him. He was embarrassed to report the assaults because as a man it was unusual to report being assaulted by a woman, he told the court. He said he was never violent towards Pienaar but “she was violent to me”. The couple regularly used cocaine, tik, Mandrax and dagga. Oosthuizen further told the court the relationship was dysfunctional, with Pienaar often showing up at his home uninvited and showing signs of being a stalker.
On the night of the incident, the couple had been using drugs and Pienaar attacked Oosthuizen with a knife. “My life was in danger,” he said.
Jacobus Oosthuizen entered the court dressed like a gangster, wearing a back-to-front baseball cap which he removed when he entered the dock and Hlophe read his sentence.
Like Henri van Breda, Oosthuizen took the 22 prison sentence “like a man”, showing no emotion, and also not electing to say anything to the family who were also in the court. As soon as a judge announces a verdict the legal status of a person changes. If they’re found guilty, their characters are officially “assassinated” to use a term that came up today. From then on the media may refer to an “alleged” murderer, for example, as a convicted murderer.
True crime is all about character assassination. Someone is either innocent or guilty. In order for a guilty person to have a chance of escaping punishment, someone else must be the bad guy. Sometimes it’s the victim, often it’s the police.
The lack of emotion in such an emotional scenario – especially sentencing – says a lot about the transactional inversion that characterise crime and justice in courtrooms around the world. The loss of a life must be paid for in some way. We tend to miss the inversion in the psychology of the criminal during this very public accounting process. During the commission of crimes, criminals are extremely agitated about something, and often, so are their victims. In court they are the polar opposites of their true selves, and they tend to give reasonable explanations for the events surrounding dead people – it was a day just like any other day, nothing unusual. That’s usually not the case.
Oosthuizen arriving looking like a gangster [but not sounding like one] was surprising, especially after weeks and months of seeing Van Bred and Rohde dressed in suits to express their supposed decency.
It’s also important to remember that while defence advocates can be employed full-time in the service of their clients, especially top advocates, judges and prosecutors have a roster of cases to go through. The concentrate on one case during a day, then have to cycle through other cases. Many journalists have the same issue as they jump continuously from one story to the next.
The advantage in writing about true crime full-time is that you get to marinade in a case, and that’s when the small, spicy details emerge. If it takes time and effort to hide these details, to think up clever little stories to bury the truth, then it takes time and effort to reveal them. As soon as one catches onto a thread, the fabric of deception quickly unravels, as do the patterns embedded in the deception. And the more time you spend in true crime, and better one becomes at picking up threads.
It’s often the job of defence experts to spin educated sounding yarns that play into the defence case. The expert-moniker, in this case of the expert pathologist, gives the defence case credibility. But is it credible?
Even before Perumal took the stand there were whispers inside and outside the Western Cape High Court that Perumal was a hired gun. I heard the same thing said about him during the Van Breda trial.
During Louis van Niekerk’s cross-examination of Perumal, credibility issues had to come up, and it was only a matter of time before Van der Spuy blew up about it. The run up to this moment was reported on by Times Live:
Van Niekerk asked Perumal if Judge Siraj Desai‚ in the Van Breda trial‚ accepted his six-page comment for the defence. The expert said it was accepted‚ according his understanding.
But Van Niekerk referred him to Desai’s 300-page judgment and said: “I want to differ with that.” Van Niekerk undertook to provide Perumal with the voluminous judgment before cross-examining him after an objection from Rohde’s counsel‚ Graham van der Spuy.
Van der Spuy said it would be unfair to question Perumal on a document he had not yet read. “I haven’t had sight of this judgment. I have a problem with the witness being cross-examined when I haven’t had sight of [it]‚” said Van der Spuy.
Then Van Niekerk took another swing. In the livefeed one can see Dr. Perumal starting to dance in the dock, literally moving forwards and backwards, and at times avoiding eye contact with the prosecutor. When Van Niekerk actually had the gumption to say the words “place any value” on Perumal’s work, Van der Spuy couldn’t take it any more.
It’s a moment well-worth watching.
The video below kicks off just after 42 minutes of Perumal’s second day of cross examination. This moment was one of the most heated exchanges of the trial, and plenty was riding on the outcome.
VAN NIEKERK: The point is…um…as I understand it, you were made available to defence, but the defence never called you.
PERUMAL: That’s correct.
VAN NIEKERK: So again, we can’t have any value on-on your involvement, it was no adjudicated by any…
PERUMAL: Well, that’s true I didn’t testify-
VAN DER SPUY [Interrupting]: My Lady, I have a difficulty with this. I dunno if this is some attempt at some form of character assasination. Um…the witness gave details of his experience, and the cases in which he was involved when he was presenting his CV. What is my learned friend trying to achieve by this? When I was cross-examining Dr. Steenkamp, the court stopped me…from investigating her conduct…in this particular matter…with regard to Mrs Rohde…in terms of professional norms and standards. The court stopped me from cross-examining her on that. Yes he’s [glances over to Van Nierkerk] Carte Blanche…to try and…take this man’s character. What is he achieving by all of this?
JUDGE: …the court found…[you] were harassing her… With this respect, I don’t perceive it as character assassination of the expert…
VAN DER SPUY [Sounding grouchy]: So is the court ruling that this may continue? May I just like to get that on record.
JUDGE: I would like to hear to what extent the state wishes to clarify what is set out in the CV of Dr. Perumal. I will decide from that [Van der Spuy interrupts] how to value his involvement, or the extent of his involvement.
VAN DER SPUY: My Lady, my I address the court on the aspect of Dr. Steenkamp?
JUDGE: No, not now. Thank you, proceed.
VAN DER SPUY: Is the court refusing to let me address it on the-
JUDGE [Raising her hand]: Not now.
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe allowed the cross-examination to continue, and it will continue tomorrow on two even more high-profile cases [Van Breda and Pistorius]. Things are likely to get very animated on the questions surrounding those cases.
Irrespective of Van der Spuy’s feelings towards his expert, it’s a little tricksy from the defense to be invoking character assassination, isn’t it? Isn’t that precisely what they have been systematically doing to Susan Rohde? Isn’t that why Dr Peter’s was scrubbed by the court as an expert witness?
It’s important to note that if Susan was distressed about her marriage, that’s one thing, but to inflate that and convert that into suicide, especially if it wasn’t a suicide, it’s a particularly cruel kind of character assassination, especially by or on behalf of a former spouse and/or his defence team.
But this question also lies at the heart of the legal case. If the prosecutor manages to shoot down the expert pathologist, then the suicide narrative disappears, and Jason Rohde will likely face a conviction on the murder charge. If the defence sets up a strong enough assassination of Susan’s character as a depressed, suicidal, overwrought victim, then the suicide narrative triumphs, and Rohde will be found not guilty.
The point is, on a charge of murder, someone has to lose their innocence. Who’s it going to be?