Oscar Pistorius: What his words reveal – Part I

On Friday September 12, Oscar Pistorius was charged with negligent homicide in the death of his girlfriend Reena Steenkamp. Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder but she stated that culpable homicide was a reasonable conclusion to the events of Feb. 14, 2013.

I received a transcript of the statement given by Pistorius at his bail hearing on 19 February 2013. We will explore the language in his statement using the SCAN methodology to further explore how words define truthful, deceptive and sensitive responses.

When we ask the subject for a statement, the only thing we ask is what happened? Any deviation or embellishment from what happened is what is assessed by the interviewer. It is generally stated that when recalling events people respond using the most efficient language possible. Any embellishments give us indicators of what types of questions to ask in order to establish what really happened.

“On the 13th of February 2013 Reeva would have gone out with her friends and I with my friends. Reeva then called me and asked that we rather spend the evening at home.”

The use of “would have” vs. “Reeva went out with her friends” calls into question if this is what actually happened that night. “Would have” is often used when the event didn’t happen as the subject reports it. The interviewer should ask at this point “what did Reeva actually do that night?”

Here is one scenario. Reeva was supposed to go out with her friends but didn’t which would explain the “would have” Pistorius went out with his friends and “then” Reeva called him and asked him to come back home for a quiet dinner. The interviewer must ask the question to gain clarification of what the subject stated.

“I agreed and we were content to havhe a quiet dinner together at home.”

When someone states that they agreed – it means that they initially disagreed or weighed the two options. In this case words like “agreed” and “decided” indicate to us that the  subject contemplated two options. Agreed also means that the subject could have initially disagreed.  The interviewer should ask “I understand that and Reeva discussed whether or not to have dinner at home that night, please tell me more about that discussion.

“By about 22h00 on 13 February 2013 we were in our bedroom. She was doing her yoga exercises and I was in bed watching television. My prosthetic legs were off. We were deeply in love and I could not be happier. I know she felt the same way. She had given me a present for Valentine’s Day but asked me only to open it the next day.”

This segment is loaded with linguistic triggers. He goes from telling us they are going to have a quiet dinner at home and now tells us it is about 22h00. This indicates that there is information missing from his statement between the time of dinner and being in the bedroom.

He then tells us his prosthetic legs are off. Why? It interrupts the flow of the question “what happened?” We see traits like this happening when someone is setting up to bolster the story later on and that the prosthetic legs are going to have something to do with it.

Then he goes on to state that “we were deeply in love”. Again, we consider that to be an interruption to the question “what happened”. It is out of context to add that detail at this point in the statement. We are not asking the subject to prove how he felt about her – only what happened that night.

The SCAN technique (Scientific Content Analysis) is a methodology used to examine truthful and deceptive points in language.  The technique uses a consistent formula in the analysis of linguistic patterns in individuals.  Therefore, regardless of the subject’s education, profession or cultural background, the same consistent measures are used to measure the subjects’ words.  SCAN is used in the analysis of statements written by the subject, interview transcripts, and oral interviews

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