News and Opinion Based on Facts

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lead investigator booted in Pistorius case

by Robyn Curnow and Michael Pearso,
February 21st 2013
Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) -- Prosecutors in the Oscar Pistorius murder case will make a final push Friday to keep the acclaimed track star in jail after a bail hearing jolted by the sudden removal of the lead investigator.

The South African Police Service pulled Hilton Botha from the case Thursday after prosecutors reinstated attempted murder charges against him.

Botha is accused of chasing and firing on a minibus full of people while drunk in 2011. He is charged with seven counts of attempted murder.

The allegations were the latest blow to a prosecution case that has suffered through several miscues during the bail hearing, including admissions that police could have contaminated the crime scene and failed to properly catalog evidence.

Prosecutors are trying to keep Pistorius jailed pending his trial on a charge of premeditated murder in the February 14 shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, 29. The hearing ended Thursday with no decision on bail and is scheduled to resume Friday.

Pistorius, 26, is accused of the premeditated murder of Steenkamp after, according to prosecutors, a heated argument in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day.

The sprinter, however, says he thought an intruder was hiding in a toilet room inside the bathroom of his Pretoria home. He says he fired into the room in a fit of terror before realizing the person inside was Steenkamp.

Replacing Botha

Court officials learned Thursday that prosecutors had restored the charges against Botha in the 2011 incident. The charges had previously been withdrawn for additional investigation, but prosecutors decided Wednesday to proceed, said Commissioner Riah Phiyega of the South African Police Service.

Phiyega praised Botha, saying he is an experienced investigator who "has presented the case of the police well."

Botha was replaced by the department's most senior detective, Vinesh Moonoo, in a move Phiyega said positioned the department for a "long-haul" investigation of Steenkamp's killing.

During the three-day bail hearing, being held in a dark, stuffy Pretoria courtroom, defense attorney Barry Roux hammered away at the credibility of Botha and the entire police investigation.

He argued police had missed a bullet in the toilet of the bathroom where Steenkamp was shot and may have contaminated the crime scene by failing to wear protective foot covers.

Botha told Roux that investigators didn't wear the booties because they'd run out.

Bulelwa Makeke, the spokeswoman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, said before the announcement of Botha's removal that the accusations against the investigator would be little more than a "speed bump" in the Pistorius case.

Gallery: Athletes charged with murder

Monumental collapse?

In arguments wrapping up Thursday's session, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius' defense team has failed to explain why investigators found two cell phones and the gun believed to have been used in the shooting in front of the shower.

That goes to the prosecution claim that Steenkamp didn't merely get up to relieve herself in the middle of the night, but in fact had locked herself in the bathroom with her cell phone to protect herself from Pistorius.

Nel also said Pistorius has shown a lack of realization of what he has done and cast doubt on Pistorius' claims that one of the reasons for his extreme fear that night was that he had been a victim of burglary and violent crime in the past.

Where, Nel asked, are the court cases from those incidents? Why, Nel asked, didn't Pistorius whisper to Steenkamp or try to wake her up when he heard noises?

In full: Pistorius' affidavit to court

In addition to his questions about the bullet and the booties, Roux got Botha to acknowledge during the hearing that investigators had failed to collect any evidence that counters Pistorius' argument that he mistakenly shot Steenkamp.

Roux told Magistrate Desmond Nair that the prosecution's case had suffered a monumental collapse.

The defense attorney also questioned police claims that a witness who lived at least 300 meters (328 yards) from Pistorius' home had heard a raging argument coming from the home.

He also said officers had failed to properly investigate and catalog evidence found there, including ammunition and a bottle of what Botha first called testosterone before backtracking.

Roux said the substance is an herbal remedy.

Authorities have argued that ballistic evidence shows Pistorius had to intentionally target the toilet to strike Steenkamp, and that evidence shows he was standing on his prosthetic legs when he shot through the bathroom door.

Pistorius said in his statement that when he shot through the door, he was feeling vulnerable to an intruder because he was not wearing his legs and had limited mobility.

Prosecutors are fighting bail because they worry that Pistorius will disappear if he's released, and they say that he has a history of police encounters that suggest he is a threat to public safety.

Pistorius has pledged to stay in South Africa and fight the charges if released, adding that he's unlikely to escape notice as a well-known athlete who walks on prosthetic legs.

Anger about detention

In other developments, the women's branch of South Africa's ruling party accused authorities of giving Pistorius special treatment by holding him at the police station instead of prison.

"If there is some special circumstance that permits this, authorities must share this with the public as they are setting a bad precedent," the statement from the African National Congress Women's League said. "All should be treated equally before the law no matter your standing in society."

What's life like in a South African prison?

Nike pulls away from sprinter

Also Thursday, Nike announced it had suspended its contract with Pistorius, saying it would "monitor the situation closely."

Nike had already pulled a TV ad featuring the sports star.

Nike's bullet ad with Pistorius backfires

Robyn Curnow reported from Pretoria, and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Marilia Brocchetto, Kim Norgaard and Dianne McCarthy also contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Police Say Testosterone Found at Home of Pistorius

February 21st 2013

PRETORIA, South Africa - South African police said on Wednesday that officers found testosterone and needles at the home of double amputee track star Oscar Pistorius when they went to his home last week to investigate the shooting death of his girlfriend.

But the athlete's lawyer said the substance was a herbal supplement and was not subject to international prohibitions on doping.

At a bail hearing in Pretoria, prosecutors have accused Mr. Pistorius, 26, of premeditated murder - a crime he denies. But the testimony on the third day of hearings since the shooting last Thursday seemed to introduce fresh accusations relating to the athlete's lifestyle.

According to prosecution testimony by a police detective, Hilton Botha, Mr. Pistorius accidentally fired a weapon at a restaurant in January and persuaded a companion to take responsibility. He had also threatened violence in another incident in an altercation about a woman.

The police asserted that two boxes of testosterone and needles were found when officers searched Mr. Pistorius's home in a gated community where Reeva Steenkamp was shot to death.

The prosecution did not accuse him directly of using or abusing the substance. Testosterone in various forms is among banned substances on the 2013 list of prohibited drugs for athletes issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency on its Web site. But Barry Roux, Mr. Pistorius's defense lawyer, said the substance found at his client's home did not figure among banned drugs.

It was "not a steroid and it is not a banned substance," Mr. Roux said, accusing the police of taking "every piece of evidence and try to extract the most possibly negative connotation and present it to the court."    

The International Paralympic Committee in Bonn, Germany, said on Wednesday that Mr. Pistorius was tested for drugs on Aug. 25 and Sept. 8 last year and both tests proved negative.

At around that time, Mr. Pistorius made sporting history by becoming the first Paralympic sprinter to compete against able-bodied athletes in the London Olympics, which were held between July 27 and Aug. 12.  In the Paralympic  Games between Aug. 29 and Sept. 9, he won two gold medals and a silver.

Mr. Pistorius, 26, arrived early at a courthouse here in a police car, his head covered by a blue blanket, to press his case to be released on bail pending trial in the death of Ms. Steenkamp, 29.

Prosecutors, who say bail should be denied, opened their arguments on Wednesday by saying they had a statement from a witness who said she heard "nonstop talking, like fighting" from 2 to 3 a.m. on the morning of the shooting. The prosecutors are seeking to depict the killing as following an argument.

As a police investigator described Ms. Steenkamp's wounds to the right side of her head, arm and hip, Mr. Pistorius broke down in tears.

The police said two smartphones were discovered but neither had been used to make a call that morning. Police had also retrieved unlicensed .38 caliber ammunition from the house and Mr. Pistorius's lawyer and brother were accused of removing documents relating to offshore bank accounts from a safe in the house, according to the prosecution testimony.

Mr. Pistorius's appearance in court on Wednesday was his third since the shooting. Before he appeared, the scene at the courtroom was described by witnesses as bedlam with journalists battling for space to follow the proceedings.

Mr. Pistorius told the court on Tuesday that on the day of the shooting he heard a strange noise coming from inside his bathroom, climbed out of bed, grabbed his 9-millimeter pistol, hobbled on his stumps to the door and fired four shots.

"I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated," Mr. Pistorius said in an affidavit read by his defense lawyer, Barry Roux. "I had no intention to kill my girlfriend."

Prosecutors painted a far different picture, one of a calculated killer, a world-renowned athlete who had the presence of mind and calm to strap on his prosthetic legs, walk 20 feet to the bathroom door and open fire as Ms. Steenkamp cowered inside, behind a locked door.

"The applicant shot and killed an unarmed, innocent woman," Gerrie Nel, the chief prosecutor, said in court on Tuesday. That, Mr. Nel argued, amounted to premeditated murder, a charge that could send Mr. Pistorius to prison for life and, according to the magistrate hearing the case, make it more difficult for the athlete to be released on bail.

The prosecution repeated the accusation on Wednesday, saying Mr. Pistorius knew Ms. Steenkamp was in the bathroom but fired anyhow. While Mr. Pistorius had said the house was dark when he heard what he thought was an intruder, the prosecution cited a witness as saying a light had been switched on when the first of four shots was fired.

The witness heard a gunshot, then the sound of a woman screaming, then more shots, the prosecution said. But the defense disputed the prosecution testimony, saying the neighbor who claimed to have overheard an argument in Mr. Pistorius's home in fact lived 600 yards away.

Mr. Roux, the defense lawyer, said it was possible that Ms. Steenkamp had locked herself into the toilet when she heard Mr. Pistorius shout at an intruder.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Pretoria, South Africa, and Alan Cowell from London.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Details Emerge in Oscar Pistorius' Murder Case

Today CBS Reported that although Pistorius appeared to be sobbing in court, his eyes were dry..

Bloody Cricket Bat Reportedly Found In Oscar Pistorius' Home

Police in South Africa are reportedly investigating the discovery of a bloodied cricket bat at the home of Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Local reports stated police believe he may have used the bat to attack girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp before shooting her dead on St Valentine's Day morning, according to a local report.

Detectives are working on two other theories concerning the bat: that it was either used to break down the door of the bathroom where she hid, or that she used it to defend herself against Mr Pistorius, South Africa's City Press reported.

One bullet cartridge was found in the champion sprinter's bedroom and police are looking at whether he "chased" his girlfriend and fired the first shot before she locked herself in the bathroom and he fired three more through the door, the paper said.

It cited three sources "close to the high-profile investigation" who said the police had a "rock solid" case against South Africa's former golden boy.

A post-mortem examination on the body of the 29-year-old model revealed that as well as bullet wounds to the head, arm, hand and hip, she suffered a fractured skull, it reported.

"There was lots of blood on the bat. Forensic tests will show whose blood it was," one source was quoted as saying.

The latest revelations, under the headline The Case Against Oscar, come after his family launched a fightback campaign saying the police had no evidence to sustain a charge of murder.

Mr Pistorius' father Henke told the Telegraph in an exclusive interview that the family had "zero doubt" that Mr Pistorius shot Miss Steenkamp dead mistakenly thinking she was intruder.

A close friend of Mr Pistorius told how the athlete called him moments after Miss Steenkamp was shot.

"Oscar called me at 3.55am saying that Reeva had been shot. I said to him, 'What are you talking about? I don't understand you.' He then repeated himself – 'There has been a terrible accident, I shot Reeva," Justin Divaris told the Sunday People.

"Next thing his neighbour picked up the phone and told me it was true and told me to get to Oscar's home. I was in total shock. I asked the neighbour, 'Is she OK?' Did the gun go off by accident?' She replied, 'No. She's not OK. You need to get here'."

According to City Press, Mr Pistorius also called his father and sister and asked them to come to the house at around 3.20am on Thursday.

When they arrived, it said, Mr Pistorius was carrying his girlfriend's body down the stairs – her head and arms were "dangling", it added.

The athlete's sister Aimee has allegedly given a statement to police saying her brother told her he had shot the FHM cover girl thinking she was an intruder.

Miss Steenkamp was said to be still breathing as security guards, neighbours and Mr Pistorius' family gathered, and he tried to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

But once police and paramedics arrived on the scene, she was declared dead.

According to a source cited by City Press, Miss Steenkamp was wearing a nightdress, an overnight bag was found at the house and her iPad was on the bedroom floor.

"It was clear that both of them had slept in the bed," the source added.

The holster of a 9mm pistol similar to the weapon recovered by police was found on one side of the bed, the paper said. A bullet cartridge was also reportedly found in the bedroom and police are investigating whether Mr Pistorius fired one shot then "chased" Miss Steenkamp to the bathroom.

"The suspicion is that the first shot, in the bedroom, hit her in the hip," one source was quoted as saying. "She then ran and locked herself in the toilet. She was doubled over because of the pain. He fired three more shots. She probably covered her head which is why the bullet also went through her hand."

Police asked for blood taken from Mr Pistorius to be tested for steroids, City Press claimed, in anticipation that his defence team might claim he acted in "roid rage" – an aggressive condition associated with taking large doses of performance-enhancing drugs.

The sensational new claims come after Miss Steenkamp, a law graduate from Port Elizabeth on South Africa's south coast, appeared posthumously on the reality television programme, Tropika Island of Treasure, which was screened by the country's national broadcaster, the SABC, last night with her family's blessing.

In the programme, filmed in Jamaica, Miss Steenkamp was seen alongside other bikini-clad contestants taking part in a hunt for treasure to win £73,000 in prize money.

In a poignant interview, filmed just days before she died as she prepared to return home, she spoke about the importance of leaving a positive mark in life.

"Not just your journey in life but the way that you go out and make your exit is so important. You have either made an impact in a positive way or a negative way," she told the camera.

On Saturday, Miss Steenkamp's father Barry insisted that they did not "hate" Mr Pistorius for what had happened.

"He must be going through things that we don't know about," he told the Mail on Sunday. "There is no hatred in our hearts."

He said he and his wife June and the rest of their family were struggling "to find some reason why this happened to our lovely daughter".

"This is a very difficult time for us," he told the paper. "June is inconsolable. We just need to find some answers. We ask the Lord every day to help us find a reason why this should happen to Reeva. She was the most beautiful, kind girl in the world. She had love for everyone and she was loved by everyone who knew her.

On Friday, during his first court appearance, Mr Pistorius repeatedly burst into tears as prosecutors discussed how they would charge him with murdering his girlfriend.

Original Page:

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Valentines Day in Hell

Oscar Pistorious, known as "the Blade runner", the first double amputee to race in the Olympics, a burgeoning super star, wealthy beyond what most of us can  imagine, tonight sits, filled with dread, in a dreary jail cell, awaiting trial for murder.
The Police have said that Oscar
murdered his girlfriend, well known supermodel, Reeva Steenkamp.
Commentators have suggested that it was an accident, that he mistook his girlfriend for a criminal breaking into his home.
The spokesman for the Police said, "This wasn't an accident, we are charging him for murder." 
The Daily Beast reported "Their relationship was described by family members as “healthy” and“fabulous.”
Steenkamp herself recently tweeted about her excitement for Valentine’s Day: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???”

So what went wrong in the wee hours at Pistorius’s house that led to Steenkamp’s untimely end?

It may be a while before we have a definitive answer to that question, but police reports of possible domestic violence indicate that—beneath its glossy surface—their relationship might have been turbulent.

Pistorius notoriously got into a Twitter spat with his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, after she remarked on his new romance with Steenkamp: “Oscar has such a way with women. She's probably not the only one he's got." "

And so it goes, as they say.

The word that immediately comes to mind here is tragedy.
A momentary surge of primtive, instinctive anger, a handgun and probably alcohol and or drugs, and the unthinkable, murder, becomes a reality.
A young woman, on the verge of achieving her dreams, gone, shot four times.
A superstar, admired by all, his life is effectively over as well.

Alcohol, guns and rage, an all too common mix, the results of which are seen much too often.
As another such tragedy unfolds,the Blackburn Report will be sticking with the story and attempting to make sense of what on the surface seems completely senseless.

Michael Blackburn, Sr.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Do the Rich Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes?

A friend asked me Sunday morning if I thought it was fair that 50% of Americans paid little to no federal income tax.

Of course, this is a loaded question. Others have pointed out that while some poorer Americans pay little to no federal income tax, they do pay 15.3% FICA taxes which covers their contributions to Social Security and Medicare, a highly regressive tax because only your first $106,000 of income is subject to the tax. In addition, local sales taxes are highly regressive because the poor and middle-class end up having to consume a much larger percentage of their income just to get by.

But the question got me thinking. What do the poor and middle class do with their money? Have they figured out some great way to avoid taxes? If they don't have Swiss bank accounts or tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, how exactly are they avoiding paying federal income taxes? What I found out was terribly disturbing.

I decided to examine household incomes in America by quintile to see, if indeed, the rich were paying too much tax. Following is a breakdown by quintile of the average incomes for American households for the year 2010. I have also included the data for someone with a million dollar income just to see what he or she ends up paying in tax;

Source: Census Bureau - Table H-3

Rather than making a traditional calculation on what percent of their total incomes each quintile pays in federal taxes (including FICA taxes), I thought it would be interesting to ask what percent in taxes they each pay after paying for basic necessities like food and shelter. I tried to come up with an estimate of what amount of money one would have to pay each month just to barely get by, to barely keep his or her head above water. Here is my estimate. You can see it is a very low estimate of what it costs to live in the US as it doesn't even include anything for medical expenses or health insurance or the required savings needed to send your kids to college or to retire on.

I know this is low and I challenge anyone who disagrees to try living on $2,000 a month for a while and to feed and clothe a family. But, let's call it the bare necessities and see what it means for American families.

If you subtract this $2,000 a month or $24,000 per year from the various quintiles' incomes, the following pre-tax disposable incomes result;

And here are the actual average taxes paid by quintile;

Source: Tax Policy Center

And so, here are the tax percentages that each quintile actually pays as a percent of their true disposable incomes assuming everyone needs at least $2,000 a month just to get by;

This certainly doesn't look fair, much less progressive. A rate cannot even be calculated for the lowest quintile because they are $13,000 negative in the hole before even paying their taxes. Similarly, the second quintile owes more taxes each year than it has available after paying for basic necessities. The third quintile represents the median income earner in the United States and is paying approximately 50% more of their disposable income in taxes than our richest Americans.

This is clearly a terribly regressive system in which the least among us are asked to pay the most from our disposable incomes. When looked at from this perspective there is no question that the wealthy have to pay a greater share of the taxes if we have a chance in balancing the federal budget.

But these numbers are distressing even regardless of tax policy. They suggest that 40% of American families after tax don't even have enough income to cover life's bare necessities. Think of it. 40% of American families can't save a dime for a child's college education, can't afford to save a dollar for their retirement and can't afford to buy health insurance.

What have we done? We have opened trade with countries that pay their workers less than one dollar an hour and get away with it because the cost of living in those countries is so low. But our own workers cannot be forced to compete with such low wages as it costs much more to live here.

I have watched my native Kentucky lose its manufacturing plants overseas and have its union plants busted up solely by the threat to outsource jobs. Manufacturing wages in my parent's home town in Kentucky have declined from $15 an hour plus benefits to $7-$8 an hour with no benefits. You cannot raise a family on seven dollars an hour even if both parents work.

We are killing this country. CEOs, entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers, doctors and politicians at the top of the pyramid are all benefiting from the lower cost of labor for their employees and the lower cost of goods imported from low-wage countries. But our workers, our dear workers are getting crushed. This is not the America I grew up in. And this shall not stand.                    
By John R. Talbot

John R. Talbott is a bestselling author and financial consultant to families whose books predicted the housing crash, the banking crisis and the global economic collapse. You can read more about his books, the accuracy of his predictions and his financial consulting activities at

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Early Fan: To her amazement, when Ginsburg gave a talk at the University of Arkansas Law School decades ago, a curious then-Governor Bill Clinton showed up to listen.
Close-Knit Family: Ginsburg's mother's sister was married to her father's brother. The two couples combined households and raised their children together.  
Superwoman: Ginsburg's husband was diagnosed with cancer at the start of their time at Harvard Law School. During his recovery, Ginsburg not only cared for him and their young daughter while maintaining her own course load, she also took notes in all of his classes and typed his dictated papers.
Most Meaningful Advice Received:  From her mother-in-law on her wedding day (accompanied by a packet of earplugs): "Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf...That advice has stood me in good stead. Not simply in dealing with my marriage, but in dealing with my colleagues."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When Did God Get Into the Wedding Business?

The British House of Commons voted to approve same-sex marriage on Tuesday. The issue deeply divides the ruling Conservative Party, as well as the Church of England. The church accepts same-sex civil unions as a legal institution but opposes gay marriage, which church leaders say undermines the sacred place of marriage in society. Was marriage originally a legal or a religious institution?

A legal institution, mostly. Marriage developed independently in hundreds of human civilizations, so it's difficult to pinpoint history's first marriage or even the society that first conceived of marriage as an institution. Early Sumerian marriage agreements, which date to the third millennium B.C., are among the oldest records relating to marriage. The couples swore an oath to a series of deities in a small number of agreements, but most of the records contain no mention of gods or religion, suggesting that the Sumerians viewed weddings as legal events. The terms of marriage were decidedly contractual, including specific worldly punishments for cheating. (The penalty for male infidelity was 10 shekels in alimony to the jilted wife. If the wife strayed, she would be strangled and dumped into a river.) There is no indication that someone who violated the marriage agreement suffered the eternal wrath of Shamash and Marduk, or that those deities took a personal interest in strong marriages.

The ancient Hebraic take on marriage is difficult to ascertain. Scholars have argued for years over whether to translate the Old Testament word describing a marriage agreement as "contract," which is a simple agreement between two parties, or "covenant," which includes an additional vow to God. One of the difficulties is that the Old Testament uses the same word to describe both God's relationship with the Israelites and a husband's promise to his wife. Some ancient Hebrew writers explicitly analogized those two commitments, and, of course, the Ten Commandments mention God's aversion to adultery. However, like the Sumerian marriage agreements, documents describing ancient Jewish marriages are mostly lists of legal obligations and consequences and rarely contain spiritual language. It's likely that the idea of marriage as a sacred union involving God developed over time among ancient Jews, but the evidence is open to interpretation.

What about the pre-Christian Greeks, the founders of modern Western society? Some of Plato's writings cast marriage in a semi-spiritual light. He wrote that, "Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature." That romantic sentiment echoes the New Testament notion that "two will become one flesh." But Plato's general philosophy was practical: Marriage was good for Greek society. He even advised young men to choose a partner based on the interests of the polis, not love or other personal desires. Aristotle had a utilitarian and legal view of marriage as well, writing that marriage "combines the useful with the pleasant." It appears that marriage was a contractual matter in ancient Greece.

The New Testament injected God into marriages like never before, most obviously by physically placing Jesus at the wedding at Cana, where he blessed the union by turning water into wine. Jesus also said of the sanctity of marriage, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." A small number of Christians moved in the fifth century to describe marriage as a religious rite on a par with baptism, but it wasn't until the 1200s that marriage had completed its transition from contractual agreement to Christian sacrament.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks John Witte Jr. of Emory University School of Law, author of From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition.
By Brian Palmer

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