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Hinting Rebuke Of China, U.S. Praises South Africa's Detection Of New COVID Strain

Washington (AFP) - The United States praised South Africa Saturday for quickly identifying the new Covid strain called Omicron and sharing this information with the world -- a barely veiled slap at China's handling of the original outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa's international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, and they discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa against COVID-19, the State Department said.

"Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world," the statement said.

First under Donald Trump and now under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly criticized China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world. It has now killed nearly 5.2 million people.

In August of this year the US intelligence community released a report in which it said it could not reach a firm conclusion on the origins of the virus -- among animals or in a research lab were top scenarios -- because China had not helped in the US probe.

The U.S. has also accused Beijing of waiting too long before sharing crucial information about the outbreak, saying that a more transparent handling could have helped halt the spread of the virus.

After the U.S. report was issued this summer, Biden accused Beijing of stonewalling.

"The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them," Biden said in a statement after that unclassified report came out.

"Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world."

The pandemic is one of many sources of acute tension today in US-China relations, as the two great powers clash over trade, human rights, and the prickly issue of Taiwan, among other matters.

British Authorities Warn Of New COVID-19 Variant: 'Most Significant Yet Found'

By Alistair Smout and Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain said on Friday that a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa was of huge concern, and considered by scientists to be the most significant one yet found as it could make vaccines less effective.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant - called B.1.1.529 - had a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, and Britain has banned flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries.

"There are no detected cases of this variant in the UK at this time. But this new variant is of huge international concern," health minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

"We are concerned that this new variant may pose a substantial risk to public health. The variant has an unusually large number of mutations."

Javid paid tribute to South African scientists for their openness and transparency. South Africa has said that Britain's decision to halt flights from the country seemed rushed.

Javid emphasised that there was much that was not yet known about the variant, but early indications suggested it might render vaccines less effective and be more transmissible, and he was concerned about a surge in cases in South Africa.

"One of the lessons of this pandemic has been the we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment," Javid said.

Earlier, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended a temporary ban on flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.

"As scientists have described, (this is) the most significant variant they've encountered to date in their research," Shapps told Sky News.

Flights will be halted until Sunday, when entry will be banned to all except British and Irish nationals and those with residency rights, who will have to quarantine in hotels.

Virgin Atlantic, which currently operates a London Heathrow to Johannesburg service, said flights were cancelled until Sunday and its schedule next week was under review.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Costas Pitas and Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg and Alex Richardson)

How Pharma's Greed Is Blocking Vaccination For The Whole World

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The big drug companies are killing people.

I get to say this about the drug companies, now that President Joe Biden has said that Facebook is killing people by allowing people to use its system to spread lies about the vaccines. There is actually a better case against the drug companies.

After all, they are using their government-granted patent monopolies and their control over technical information about the production of vaccines to limit the supply of vaccines available to the world. As a result, most of the population in the developing world is not yet vaccinated. And, unlike the followers of Donald Trump, people in developing countries are not vaccinated because they can't get vaccines.

The TRIPS Waiver Charade

The central item in the story about speeding vaccine distribution in the developing world is the proposal put forward at the World Trade Organization last October (yes, that would be nine months ago), by India and South Africa, to suspend patents and other intellectual property rules related to vaccines, tests, and treatments for the duration of the pandemic. Since that time, the rich countries have been engaged in a massive filibuster, continually delaying any WTO action on the measure presumably with the hope that it will become largely irrelevant at some point.

The Biden administration breathed new life into the proposal when it endorsed suspending patent rights, albeit just for vaccines. This is the easiest sell for people in the United States and other rich countries since it is not just about humanitarian concerns for the developing world. If the pandemic is allowed to spread unchecked in the developing world it is likely only a matter of time before a vaccine-resistant strain develops. This could mean a whole new round of disease, death, and shutdowns in the rich countries until a new vaccine can be developed and widely distributed.

After the Biden administration indicated its support for this limited waiver, many other rich countries signed on as well. Germany, under longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been largely left alone to aid the pharmaceutical industry in opposing the vaccine waiver.

I had the chance to confront the industry arguments directly last week in a web panel sponsored by the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (link included when it becomes available). It's always educational to see these arguments up close and real people actually making them.

The first line of defense is that the waiver of patent rights by itself does not lead to any increase in vaccine production. This is of course true. Vaccines have to be manufactured; eliminating patent rights is not the same thing as manufacturing vaccines.

But once we get serious, the point is that many potential manufacturers of vaccines are being prevented from getting into the business by the threat of patent infringement lawsuits. In some cases, this might mean reverse-engineering the process, something that might be more feasible with the adenovirus vaccines produced by Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, than with the mRNA vaccines. The manufacturing process for these vaccines is similar to ones already used by manufacturers in several countries in the developing world, as well as several in the rich countries that are not currently producing vaccines against the pandemic.

Another possible outcome from eliminating patent rights is that the drug companies may opt to do more voluntary licensing agreements under the logic that it is better to get something than nothing.

If manufacturers use reverse engineering to produce vaccines, the patent holders get nothing. They would be much better off with a limited royalty on a licensing agreement, even if it is less than they could have expected if they had been able to maintain an unchecked patent monopoly.

[Editor: Reverse engineering is how startup computer companies built clones of the early PCs or personal computers. They bought IBM personal computers and paid one set of engineers to take it apart and describe what they found. Then a second set of engineers used the descriptions to build a personal computer. Voila, no royalties to IBM.]

The other route that suspending patent monopolies may open is one where former employees of the pharmaceutical companies may choose to share their expertise with vaccine manufacturers around the world. In almost all cases these employees would be bound by non-disclosure agreements. This means that sharing their knowledge would subject them to substantial legal liability. But some of them may be willing to take this risk. From the standpoint of potential manufacturers, the patent waiver would mean that they would not face direct liability if they were to go this route, and the countries in which they are based would not face trade sanctions.

Open-Sourcing Technology

While suspending patent rights by itself could lead to a substantial increase in vaccine production, if we took the pandemic seriously, we would want to go much further. We would want to see the technology for producing vaccines fully open-sourced. This would mean posting the details of the manufacturing process on the web, so that engineers all over the world could benefit from them. Ideally, the engineers from the pharmaceutical companies would also be available to do webinars and even in-person visits to factories around the world, with the goal of assisting them in getting their facilities up-to-speed as quickly as possible.

The industry person on my panel didn't seem to understand how governments could even arrange to have this technology open-sourced. He asked rhetorically whether governments can force a company to disclose information.

As a legal matter, governments probably cannot force a company to disclose information that it chooses to keep secret. However, governments can offer to pay companies to share this information. This could mean, for example, that the U.S. government (or some set of rich country governments) offers Pfizer $1-$2 billion to fully open-source its manufacturing technology.

Suppose Pfizer and the other manufacturers refuse reasonable offers. There is another recourse. The governments can make their offers directly to the company's engineers who have developed the technology. They can offer the engineers say $1-$2 million a month for making their knowledge available to the world.

This sharing would almost certainly violate the non-disclosure agreements these engineers have signed with their employers. The companies would almost certainly sue engineers for making public disclosures of protected information. Governments can offer to cover all legal expenses and any settlements or penalties that they face as a result of the disclosure.

The key point is that we want the information available as soon as possible. We can worry about the proper level of compensation later. This again gets back to whether we see the pandemic as a real emergency.

Suppose that during World War II Lockheed, General Electric, or some other military contractor developed a new sonar system that made it easier to detect the presence of German submarines. What would we do if this company refused to share the technology with the U.S. government so that it was better able to defend its military and merchant vessels against German attacks?

While that scenario would have been almost unimaginable – no U.S. corporation would have withheld valuable military technology from the government during the war – it is also almost inconceivable that the government would have just shrugged and said, "Oh well, I guess there is nothing we can do." (That's especially hard to imagine since so much public money went into developing the technology.) The point is that the war was seen as a national emergency and the belief that we had to do everything possible to win as quickly as possible was widely shared. If we see the pandemic as a similar emergency, it would be reasonable to treat it in the same way as World War II.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is what the industry representative saw as the downside of making their technology widely available. The argument was that the mRNA technology was not actually developed to be used against Covid. Its value against the pandemic was just a fortunate coincidence. The technology was actually intended to be used for vaccines against cancer and other diseases.

From the industry perspective, the downside is that if they made their technology more widely available, then other companies may be able to step in and use it to develop their own vaccines against cancer and other diseases. In other words, the big fear is that we will see more advances in health care if the technology is widely available, pretty much the exact opposite of the story about how this would impede further innovation.

I gather most of us do not share the industry's concerns that open-sourcing technology could lead to a proliferation of new vaccines against deadly diseases, but it is worth taking a moment to think about the innovation process. The industry has long pushed the line that the way to promote more innovation is to make patent and related monopolies longer and stronger. The idea is that by increasing potential profits, we will see more investment in developing new vaccines, cures, and treatments.

But these monopolies are only one way to provide incentives, and even now they are not the only mechanism we use. We also spend over $40 billion a year in the United States alone on supporting biomedical research, primarily through the National Institutes of Health. Most of this money goes to more basic research, but many drugs and vaccines have been developed largely on the government dime, most notably the Moderna vaccine, which was paid for entirely through Operation Warp Speed.

If we put up more public money, then we need less private money. I have argued that we would be best off relying pretty much entirely on public money. This would take away the perverse incentives created by patent monopoly pricing, like the pushing of opioids that was a major factor in the country's opioid crisis. It would also allow for the open-sourcing of research, which should be a condition of public funding. This could create the world the industry fears, as many companies could jump ahead and take advantage of developments in mRNA technology to develop vaccines against a variety of diseases.

But even if we don't go the full public funding route, it is pretty much definitional that more public funding reduces the need for strong patent monopolies to provide incentives. If we put up more dollars for research, clinical testing, or other aspects of the development process, then we can provide the same incentive to the pharmaceutical industry with shorter and/or weaker monopoly protections.

In the vaccine context, open-source means not only sharing existing technology, but creating the opportunity for improving it by allowing engineers all of the world to inspect production techniques. While the industry would like to pretend that it has perfected the production process and possibilities for improvement do not exist, this is hardly plausible based on what is publicly known.

To take a few examples, Pfizer announced back in February that it found that changing its production techniques could cut production time in half. It also discovered that its vaccine did not require super-cold storage. Rather, it could be kept in a normal freezer for up to two weeks. In fact, Pfizer did not even realize that its standard vial contained six doses of the vaccine rather than five. This meant that one sixth of its vaccines were being thrown into the toilet at a time when they were in very short supply.

Given this history, it is hard to believe that Pfizer and the other pharmaceutical companies now have an optimal production system that will allow for no further improvements. As the saying goes, when did the drug companies stop making mistakes about their production technology?

Has Anyone Heard Of China?

It is remarkable how discussions of vaccinating the world so often leave out the Chinese vaccines. They are clearly not as effective as the mRNA vaccines, but they are nonetheless hugely more effective in preventing death and serious illness than no vaccines. And, in a context where our drug companies insist that they couldn't possibly produce enough vaccines to cover the developing world this year, and possibly not even next year, we should be looking to the Chinese vaccines to fill the gap.

China was able to distribute more than 560 million vaccines internally in the month of June, in addition to the doses it supplied to other countries. Unless the country had a truly massive stockpile at the start of the month, this presumably reflects capacity in the range of 500 million vaccines a month. The Chinese vaccines account for close to 50 percent of the doses given around the world to date.

It would be bizarre not to try to take advantage of China's capacity. There obviously are political issues in dealing with China, but America and other Western countries should try to put these aside, if we are going to be serious about vaccinating the world as quickly as possible.

'Mistakes Were Made' — NOT Our National Motto

If a vaccine-resistant strain of the coronavirus develops, and we have to go through a whole new round of disease, deaths, and shutdowns, it will be an enormous disaster from any perspective. The worst part of the story is that it is a fully avoidable disaster.

We could have had the whole world vaccinated by now, if the United States and other major powers had made it a priority. Unfortunately, we were too concerned about pharmaceutical industry profits and scoring points against China to go this route.

Nonetheless, we may get lucky. Current infection rates worldwide are down sharply from the peaks hit in April, but they are rising again due to the Delta variant. It is essential to do everything possible to accelerate the distribution of vaccines. It is long past time that we started taking the pandemic seriously.

Prosecutors Appeal Pistorius’ Five-Year Sentence For Killing Girlfriend

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority will appeal the controversial murder acquittal of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius and his five-year sentence for the lesser crime of culpable homicide.
The decision to appeal was announced Monday.

In South Africa, the prosecution can appeal a judgment only if an error has been made in law. A 1982 judgment, S v. Seekoei, appears to further limit the state’s right to appeal judgments, confining appeals to cases in which there is an acquittal.

Pistorius was sentenced to five years in jail for culpable homicide (negligent killing, similar to manslaughter in the U.S. justice system) for the fatal shooting last year of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Under South African law, he could be out of prison in 10 months, a sentence many regard as lenient.

A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Nathi Mncube, said the appeal was based on questions of law and the NPA’s argument would become clear once it filed papers seeking leave to appeal.

Mncube said prosecutors in the Pistorius case have been busy studying the judgment and consulting legal experts on the question of an appeal.

“The prosecutors are now preparing the necessary papers in order to be able to file within the next few days,” Mncube said.

James Grant, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, was among those saying that Masipa’s judgment was not well reasoned and would not likely stand up to scrutiny in a higher court.

Grant posted on Twitter last week that he was “strongly in favor” of an appeal. He said lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel consulted him on whether to appeal, and he advised him to do so.

“I have advised that he should appeal & agreed to assist,” Grant wrote.

Grant has specifically criticized the judge over her interpretation of a South African legal principle that murder includes a situation in which a person foresees that his or her actions will kill, but goes ahead anyway. In the Pistorius case, there was intense argument around the question of whether the athlete must have foreseen that shooting four expanding bullets into a small toilet cubicle would kill anyone inside, regardless of whether this was an intruder or his girlfriend.

AFP Photo/Alexander Joe

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Oscar Pistorius Convicted Of Negligent Killing, Could Face Jail Time

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who was cleared of murder in the killing of his girlfriend, was convicted Friday on the lesser charge of culpable homicide.

Judge Thokozile Masipa accepted the athlete’s defense that he mistook Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder. But she found that he was negligent when he fired four shots into the door of a toilet cubicle where the 29-year-old model had locked herself in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
The judge asked Pistorius to stand to hear the verdict.

“The accused is found not guilty and discharged,” she said of the murder charges. “Instead he is found guilty of culpable homicide.”

Pistorius, who repeatedly broke down in tears during months of testimony, stood straight, staring ahead without showing any emotion.

Prosecutors had contended that Pistorius, 27, wanted to kill Steenkamp after they had an argument. South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority expressed its disappointment over the verdict and said it would make a decision about whether to appeal after sentencing.

Pistorius could face significant prison time — or none at all — depending on how reckless he was in the judge’s view. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Oct. 13, when the defense and prosecution will make submissions to the court.

Pistorius, a double amputee, won fame and adulation for running in the 2012 Olympic Games in London on prosthetic legs, attracting sponsorships worth millions of dollars. Sponsors abruptly dropped him after the murder charges, and he appeared to lose public support after his poor performance on the witness stand.

His acquittal on the murder charges raises the possibility that he might resume a sporting career. But the emotional frailty he showed throughout the trial, weeping frequently and vomiting on hearing descriptions of Steenkamp’s wounds, may have irreparably damaged the Pistorius brand that sponsors once clamored for.

Although Masipa concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict the athlete of murder, she found him guilty of a negligent, although unintentional killing, known in South Africa as culpable homicide.

“The conduct of the accused shortly after the incident is inconsistent with the conduct of someone who intended to commit murder,” Masipa said.
Pistorius shouted for help, called an ambulance and security, tried to save Steenkamp’s life, and prayed to God to save her.

“From the above it cannot be said that the accused did not entertain a genuine belief that there was an intruder in the bathroom who posed a direct threat to his life,” Masipa said.

She also said there was no evidence that Pistorius foresaw the consequences of firing four bullets into the cubicle.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Masipa not to extend the athlete’s bail because of the serious nature of the conviction. He noted that Pistorius was involved in “an incident” at a nightclub in July. He also argued that Pistorius was a flight risk, saying he had sold his two last properties, and that there was nothing to keep him in South Africa.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux conceded that Pistorius should not have been at the nightclub and knew that appearing in public “invites problems.” But he said Pistorius sold the property to cover his legal costs and that that move showed his respect for the legal system.

Masipa was not persuaded by Nel’s argument. Pistorius remained free on bail.

Masipa began Friday by acquitting Pistorius of an unrelated charge of recklessly firing a weapon out of the sunroof of a car. She said the prosecution witnesses, both former friends of Pistorius, contradicted each other and that one of them was dishonest.

The judge also acquitted Pistorius on a charge of illegal possession of ammunition.

However, Masipa convicted Pistorius of recklessly discharging a firearm in a public place, in connection with an incident at a crowded restaurant north of Johannesburg called Tashas. Pistorius said the gun went off in his hands. The judge said he should not have asked to handle a gun in a crowded place, and she accepted the evidence of witnesses that he was warned that the weapon was loaded.

Many South Africans were surprised that the judge, though she found that Pistorius was dishonest when he repeatedly insisted that he never intended to fire the fatal shots, still acquitted him of murder. Some legal analysts suggested that Masipa had made a mistake that could provide a basis for an appeal.

But Masipa cited a legal precedent cautioning a judge against a guilty conviction just because an accused person lied under oath.

After the court recessed for a short break Friday, Pistorius remained in his place for a few minutes, then stood up, alone, fiddling with notes, still showing no emotion. His sister, Aimee Pistorius, was the first to approach and comfort him. Other family members stood in their places, as though still digesting the news of Pistorius’ conviction.

His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, turned to journalists, saying the damage done to the athlete by the trial was “tragic” and could never be rectified.
Later, he delivered a brief statement to reporters expressing the family’s gratitude to the judge for acquitting Pistorius of murder and saying a huge burden had been lifted.

With his wife, Lois, beside him, he said the family never doubted his nephew’s account. He added that they were deeply affected by Steenkamp’s death and said their hearts went out to her family, friends and supporters.

The Steenkamp family sat talking quietly among themselves.

AFP Photo/Kim Ludbrook

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Pistorius Found Not Guilty Of Murder

Pretoria (AFP) – “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp Thursday, a shock decision that left the South African celebrity athlete sobbing with emotion in the dock.

“The state clearly has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder,” Thokozile Masipa told the High Court in Pretoria.

“Viewed in its totality the evidence failed to establish that the accused had the requisite intention to kill the deceased let alone with premeditation,” she said.

Pistorius could still be found guilty of culpable homicide, carrying anything from a suspended sentence to a lengthy prison stretch, or he could be acquitted.

Judge Masipa was expected to disclose her verdict on this charge after the lunch break.

When he heard the judgement, the 27-year-old Pistorius, a double-amputee Paralympian sprinter, sat in the dock bowed and burying his head in his hands.

After court adjourned for lunch, his sister Aimee rushed from the first row of the public gallery to hug her older brother, who was wiping tears from his eyes with a handkerchief.

The victim’s parents, Barry and June Steenkamp, left the courtroom with stony faces.

When asked if this is good news for Pistorius, his Aunt Lois replied, “It’s not the end you know, we’re still listening.”

Legal experts voiced shock at the dismissal of murder charges, and predicted the case that has gripped South Africans for a year would not rest with the verdict.

Both defense and prosecution agree that Pistorius killed Steenkamp a law graduate and fashion model, when he fired four shots through a locked toilet door in his upmarket Pretoria home.

But the sprinter says he thought he was shooting at an intruder while Steenkamp was safely in bed.

The prosecution says he killed her in a fit of rage after an argument.

Judge Masipa moved quickly through her judgement, rejecting state evidence that pointed to an argument between the couple.

“Neither the evidence of the loving relationship or a relationship turned sour can assist this court to determine whether the accused had the requisite intention to kill the deceased,” she said.

The judge also reviewed evidence by neighbors who testified to hearing shots and screams, saying many “had their facts wrong”.

She said the huge media coverage of the case could have affected some witnesses.

“I am of the view that they failed to separate what they knew personally or what they heard from other people or what they gathered from the media,” she said.

But Masipa also said Pistorius himself was “evasive” on the stand, and that his evidence showed “a number of defenses, or apparent defenses”.

“The accused was a very poor witness,” she said.

The verdict is the climax of a six-month murder trial that has cast a harsh spotlight on the fallen hero’s private life.

Full of high drama, the trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts veering into the realm of TV reality shows.

During proceedings Pistorius has broken down, weeping and at times vomiting as he heard how the 29-year-old blonde’s head “exploded” like a watermelon under the impact of his hollow-point bullets.

Thursday’s verdict, also broadcast live to audiences worldwide, is unlikely to be the end of the case.

There will be more courtroom arguments before a sentence is handed down and, most likely, an appeal to a higher court.

“I’m shocked,” said Martin Hood, a Johannesburg-based criminal lawyer. “I think she’s going to get quite a lot of criticism from the judiciary and the legal system.”

“The consensus among the legal community was that he is guilty of murder. This could really open the door to systematic abuse of our legal system by people who shoot their partners and claim self-defense.”

Whatever happens, Pistorius’s glittering sporting career is likely to be over.

Once a poster boy for disabled sport, he has been stripped of lucrative endorsement deals by global brands and has withdrawn from all competition.

AFP Photo/Kim Ludbrook

What Was Oscar Pistorius Thinking When He Fired The Gun?

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — What was Oscar Pistorius thinking?

For all the minute testimony in the South African athlete’s murder trial — about dents in a door made by a cricket bat, positions of curtains, power cords, and duvets in his bedroom, the forensics of bullet wounds — Pistorius’ fate will largely be decided on how a judge views his state of mind.

Is he a volatile troublemaker who intended to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp? Or was he a victim of extraordinary misfortune firing at a presumed intruder?

Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, has said he thought a burglar had barricaded himself in a toilet cubicle, and fired four shots through the door, killing Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will hear final arguments Thursday, then resort to a complicated body of law. The simplest verdict would be to agree with the prosecution that Pistorius intentionally shot his girlfriend while in a rage after an argument — making it murder.

But under South African law, firing with intent to kill can be ruled murder even if the defendant was mistaken about his target.

Masipa also could consider “culpable homicide,” a criminal but unintentional killing in which Pistorius, a trained gun expert, did not foresee the consequences of firing Black Talon expanding bullets through a door and into the small cubicle.

A similar defense did not help hip-hop star Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye. A judge in his case ruled that he must have foreseen that drag racing on a crowded street near a school could kill people. Four boys died and two others were left with brain damage when his car struck them. He was convicted of murder.

Pistorius’ advocate, Barry Roux, has aired several different defenses, each mutually exclusive, leaving even legal experts confused — and intrigued.

Although the circumstances of the case preclude a claim of self-defense under South African law, Pistorius could claim “putative private defense” — that he believed he was acting lawfully and reacting reasonably to a perceived threat to his life.

Most experts thought Roux had that defense in mind, until Pistorius took the stand. Many experts regarded Pistorius as a poor witness because of contradictions and inconsistencies under cross-examination. His story didn’t jibe with crime scene photographs showing the position of objects in the bedroom, including a fan and duvet.

Pistorius told the court he was so terrified that he acted unconsciously: He didn’t aim at the door, didn’t consciously pull the trigger, and never thought he would kill anyone. Believing there was a burglar in the home, he armed himself, and moved toward the door — all the time knowing exactly what he was doing. Yet, at the moment he pulled the trigger, intentional, conscious action evaporated, Pistorius testified.

“Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door,” Pistorius told the court.

Roux could use self-defense or several other arguments in framing his final argument on Pistorius’ behalf.

To convict Pistorius, “You need to be convinced that there’s no reasonable possibility that he could have been lingering under the mistake that there was an intruder in the house and that he had to kill this intruder,” said James Grant, a criminal law expert at Witwatersrand University.

Despite the apparent weight of evidence against him, Pistorius’ state of mind is “all important,” said Grant. “That’s why it’s so difficult to call.”

Pistorius’ final defense witness, sports medicine expert Wayne Derman, told the court that extreme anxiety and a diminished ability to defend himself left Pistorius with a hair-trigger startle reflex. His testimony raised a potentially precedent-setting question for South Africa, according to legal analysts: Did being disabled and unable to flee leave Pistorius so vulnerable and terrified that he lost control of his actions, and unintentionally pulled the trigger?

Derman testified that the startle responses of disabled athletes were exaggerated, compared with those of non-disabled people. Because Pistorius couldn’t flee, he had to confront danger, an option that may not have been reasonable for an able-bodied person who could have run away, Derman testified.

Legal analysts said it was the first time a South African court has been confronted with a defense of unconscious, involuntary action, based on an exaggerated startle response due to disability. Courts have tended to dismiss such a defense except in extraordinary cases involving sleep walking or epilepsy.

One more long shot defense is available, however. South African law recognizes temporary insanity (technically known as temporary non-pathological criminal incapacity) in cases in which a killer is so emotionally overwhelmed by terror, rage, or other emotions that he briefly loses control and acts unconsciously and involuntarily.

“The evidence of Derman is very much along the lines that his startle response made it impossible for him to understand that he was doing wrong or to control himself,” Grant said.

The last South African who tried the temporary insanity defense failed. Graeme Eadie, who beat a motorist to death with a hockey stick after the driver tailgated him at night, flashed his headlights, overtook and cut him off, argued that marital, financial, and work stress provoked his temporary non-pathological criminal incapacity. Eadie lost the case, and an appeal.

David Dadic, an attorney and criminal law expert, said the defense made a strong case Pistorius was extremely fearful and vulnerable. But the court might conclude that many other people have been similarly fearful, but did not react the same way, he added.

“I think the court will be wary of the precedent,” Dadic said. “We can’t create a precedent in this country where you can go and shoot down bathroom doors because you are scared.”

AFP Photo/Alon Skuy

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Oscar Pistorius Blames Businessman For Weekend Altercation At Club

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was involved in an altercation at an upscale nightclub Saturday and later insisted that a businessman accosted him aggressively, according to South African media.

But the businessman, Jared Mortimer, who runs a clothing company, told the Star newspaper that Pistorius was drunk, poked him in the chest, and insulted his friends and South African President Jacob Zuma.

Mortimer is friendly with several of Pistorius’ former friends.

The incident at the VIP Room in Johannesburg occurred days after Pistorius’ defense lawyers closed their case in Pretoria’s high court, where he is on trial for murder in the shooting death last year of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The prosecution had portrayed the athlete as a self-centered, aggressive individual with an anger problem, while Pistorius’ defense team presented him as fearful, anxious, vulnerable, and a fervent Christian.

A grainy photograph emerged on Twitter showing a blurred figure that appeared to be Pistorius at the nightclub.

The athlete’s spokeswoman, Anneliese Burgess, confirmed in a statement that there was an incident and said Pistorius wasn’t to blame and that he left the club regretting he had gone there.

The day after the altercation, Pistorius posted several religious tweets and a photo collage of himself working with disabled children. He also posted a quote from Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl that the highest human value is love.

The VIP Room has a private section. Burgess said Pistorius was sitting in a quiet area of the section with his cousin when Mortimer approached.

“The individual in question, according to our client, started to aggressively engage him on matters relating to the trial,” she said. “An argument ensued during which our client asked to be left alone. Oscar left soon thereafter with his cousin.”

But Mortimer told South African media that Pistorius was drunk and behaved aggressively.

He said he was introduced to Pistorius by Guil Yahav, a professional poker player and former bouncer with a conviction assault over the fatal 2002 stabbing of another bouncer, Patrick Caetano.

“Oscar said to me, ‘Oh, you are the notorious Jared Mortimer,”’ Mortimer told the Star. He said Pistorius told him that some of Mortimer’s friends had treated him badly.

“Then he started talking about some of my friends, and he said he had statements and evidence that would get my friends into trouble. But he wouldn’t use it because he wasn’t that kind of person.

“He was drunk, but not bad. We were drinking tequila, and I still remember putting down my drink and thinking I couldn’t drink it while my friends were being spoken of like that,” Mortimer said. The businessman then said that Pistorius upset him by insulting Zuma and his family. Mortimer says he is close to one of the president’s family members.

He claimed that the double-amputee athlete jabbed a finger aggressively in his chest, so Mortimer pushed him, and Pistorius fell backwards over a chair.

“He was poking me and saying that I would never get the better of him. He was close to my face and at that point I pushed him to get him away from me. A chair was behind his legs and he fell to the ground,” Mortimer told the Star.

The newspaper reported that several witnesses also saw the altercation between Mortimer and Pistorius.

“I said to my friend, ‘Check over there, there’s a fight,'” one witness who did not want to be identified told the Star. He said he saw people holding two men apart from each other. The second man then left the club.

“He came up to us and pulled zap signs in our faces,” the man said, referring to an obscene gesture. “That’s when I realized it was Pistorius.”

Burgess said Pistorius “regrets the decision to go into a public place and thereby inviting unwelcome attention.”

AFP Photo/Alon Skuy

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