“Why, Gertruida, are people so intrigued and fascinated by this sad affair? A beautiful woman died. A great athlete’s life is in ruins. And two families will not wake up to a new day – ever again – without reliving the horror of the last few days. Surely society should react by expressing condolences and sympathy?”
“It doesn’t work that way, Vetfaan. The more horrible the situation, the more people want to take sides. They either condemn the situation and want to see justice done, or they decide outright – without knowing all the facts – who is guilty and then try and patch in a motive. Remember, the more sordid the facts, the more viewers will be glued to their TV sets.”
“But what about the bloodied cricket bat? It sounds as if there was a terrific struggle before the shots? Or maybe afterwards?”
“Stop it, Vetfaan! We just don’t know. The police are investigating and the case will be heard in court. This is such a high-profile case, you can be assured everything – and I mean everything – will come out. Next week, the week after, we’ll know much more, and then the speculation will end. Until then, my friend, we should not guess and gossip. One murder is enough…”
“What do you mean?”
“A woman was murdered. We must not murder justice by pre-judging the case. What about putting the same evidence – the shots, the shouts, the bat – in a different set of circumstances? What about a third person being involved? Can there be only one explanation for the tragedy, or are there more sinister reasons why it happened? If it were such an open and shut case, why deny everything so empathically? What ramifications are hiding behind the façade? This wasn’t a common spat between two lovers. Something went horribly wrong and we don’t know what it is – so let’s not speculate.”
“You may be right. I heard the family believes the forensic evidence will not support his conviction of murder. Maybe the media should back down and allow a fair trial.”
Gertruida nods. “People should be reminded of Dr Samuel Sheppard. In 1954 his pregnant wife was brutally bludgeoned to death. Newspapers at the time declared that he, without doubt, was the murderer. Article after article declared his guilt. The public was unanimous: the doctor did it. And when he was convicted to life in prison, society sighed with satisfaction: justice had been done. He was sent to prison, his mother committed suicide and his father died of a bleeding ulcer eleven days later. His murdered wife’s father also took his own life later.
“But everybody was wrong. The doctor didn’t do it. After ten years in prison, a retrial re-examined the forensic evidence and found him not guilty. He was a free man, but with a broken spirit. He died an alcoholic.
“The point I’m making, Vetfaan, is that prejudging is a dangerous game, and not only for the accused in question. Families get destroyed. Lives change forever. We simply cannot allow the tragedy to spread by judging something we have no right to.”
The two of them share a comfortable silence after Gertruida’s little speech. As always Gertruida is right. In Rolbos, the little crowd in Boggel’s Place will wait quietly for events to unfold. They’ll be interested spectators, but definitely not join the speculation and sensationalistic gossip about who did what and why.
Elsewhere, however, the talk and the rumours gain momentum with every passing day.
Such a pity.
They may well be bludgeoning justice with a cricket bat…