Oscar Pistorius Trial: Lying, the Truth and Inaccuracy


The Oscar Pistorius Trial poses a basic question about human beings and credibility. The question being asked: Is he telling the “truth”, or is he a “murderer”? The death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, happened in the dark of the evening after he was roused from his slumber. He claims to have awoken to sounds he believed to be an intruder. How does one decide such a question?

Just about everyone has seen the original Star Wars Trilogy which begins with episode four which starts “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”  In the first movie, Episode IV, Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is rescued by an old hermit known as old Ben Kenobi, After Luke is rescued by Ben from the sand people, he learns that Ben is really a Jedi Knight, Obi Wan Kenobi, who knew Luke’s father. Luke asks Obi Wan about what happen to his father:

Luke Skywalker: How did my father die?

Obi Wan Kenobi: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine, was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.  He betrayed and murdered your father.

This sounds like a straight-forward explanation… maybe?  But in the next movie, Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke confronts the ‘evil’ Darth Vader.  During their light saber battle, Luke and Vader have the following exchange:

Darth Vader: “Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father.”

Luke Skywalker: “He told me enough.  He told me you killed him.”

Darth Vader: “No — I am your father.”

The movie closes with Luke asking why Obi Wan Kenobi did not tell him Vader was his father.

So which is it?  Did Vader kill Luke’s father?  Or is he Luke’s father?  Of course, the story doesn’t end there, and in the third and final movie of the original trilogy, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, Luke finally gets the answer he deserves to his question about what happened to his father.  Luke returns to finish his Jedi training and asks Yoda if Vader is in fact his father.  After Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, Luke has this conversation with Obi Wan’s ghost:

Luke Skywalker: Why didn’t you tell me?  You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.

Obi Wan Kenobi: Your father was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.  He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker, and became Darth Vader.  When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.  So what I told you was true.  From a certain point of view.

Luke Skywalker: A certain point of view?

Obi Wan Kenobi: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the “truths” we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

And this statement illustrates the difference between truth and accuracy.  Just because someone testifies under oath to something that can be proven false, does not necessarily mean the witness is lying.  Likewise, just because a witness strongly believes what he has testified to, doesn’t mean that he is right. You have to be careful not confuse “sincerity” for “veracity” or “mistake” with “malevolence”. What Obi Wan Kenobi was really trying to tell Luke is that there is a difference between lying, the “truth” and inaccuracy. It all boils down to one’s point of view, their personal biases, opportunity to observe, mental acuity and their skills as an observer.

There is a difference between lying and being mistaken. Mistakes happen all the time. Sometimes people and even animals risk their lives on them. This is what happens when you fish with an artificial bait. You cast out your lure and a fish strikes your lure sincerely believing it is live food. The fish has just a split second to make its decision to strike the “food” before the opportunity is lost. The fish is literally “dead wrong” when it strikes. This is simply a case of “erroneous recognition” by the fish.

It is easy to second guess someone. The decision he made that night did not happen in the calm of the courtroom where the case will be argued.

Here, is he telling  the “truth” based on his own point of view or weaving a lie in the fabric of truth? Just because his point of view differs from what really happened does not mean he is necessarily lying. He could just be sincerely dead wrong.

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About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on April 16, 2014, in closing arguments, Trial Advocacy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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