'48 Hours' Looks at Similarities Between O.J. Simpson and Oscar Pistorius Trials
"O.J. was a feeding frenzy," says "Oscar Pistorius: Shots in the Dark" EP Susan Zirinsky. "You had to really be inventive to get something unique in these massive situations."
As the media collectively mark the 20th anniversary of the White Bronco chase that would spur the so-called "trial of the century" and usher in the era of round-the-clock court coverage and reality television, another similar murder trial is playing out in a different country.
Like O.J. Simpson, Oscar Pistorius is a famous athlete who rose to the pinnacle of his sport. Of course, Pistorius did it without the use of his legs, which were amputated when he was 11 months old due to a congenital condition that left him without a fibula in both legs. Known as the Blade Runner for the curved prosthetics he ran on, Pistorius came to global attention two years ago when he became the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, running the men's 400 meters at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Less than seven months later, on Valentine's Day 2013, he would shoot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a model and reality TV star, through the locked bathroom door of his home in Pretoria, it is alleged.
Similar to the Simpson trial in the U.S., the prosecution of Pistorius — the first trial to be televised live in South Africa — has become a national fascination. The country's top cable provider last March launched a 24-hour channel dedicated to the trial. Although the proceedings are currently on a break as Pistorius undergoes a court-ordered psychological assessment to determine his state of mind at the time of the shooting, the case continues to fill newspapers, blogs and the television media in South Africa while the U.S. media also has parsed every turn in the case.
On the eve of the Bronco anniversary, CBS News' 48 Hours wades into the trial with a one-hour special tonight at 10 p.m. The investigation — reported by correspondents Debora Patta, Peter Van Sant and Troy Roberts — includes the first American TV interview with the man Pistorius considered his surrogate father. Not surprisingly, Mike Azzie tells CBS News, "Oscar is not a cold-blooded murderer."
It is Azzie's first American TV interview since the trial began. And 48 Hours executive producer Susan Zirinsky admits she was hesitant to cover the case, partly because it has been difficult to get interviews with many of the principals, including Steenkamp's parents, without paying them.
"There were a lot of things that were troubling about this case," says Zirinsky. "Was he in a rage? Was it celebrity gone bad? So I thought, if I don't get the main interviews because I'm not going to pay for them, I'm going to find a way to do this show without them. Somebody will talk to us that doesn't have to be paid."
Oscar Pistorius: Shots in the Dark also includes interviews with Jen Su, a South African talk show host and friend to both Steenkamp and Pistorius, and defense attorneys Mark O'Mara and Joe Tacopina (who defended Michael Jackson, Joran van der Sloot and Alex Rodriguez).
The special naturally draws correlations between the two cases, including the racial components at play in each case. There is a widespread fear of violent street crime among white South Africans, and Pistorius' lawyers claim he thought Steenkamp was an intruder. The prosecution asserts he and Steenkamp were fighting; ear witnesses have testified that they heard a woman screaming.
"O.J. was just this feeding frenzy," recalls Zirinsky, who was producing Connie Chung's Eye to Eye at the time of the incident. "In truth, what was so difficult was to carve out something you felt you were revealing as a reporter. You had to really be inventive to get something unique in these massive situations."