TODAY   |  April 07, 2014

McFadden: Pistorius’ ‘life is in his own hands’

Cynthia McFadden, NBC’s new senior legal and investigative correspondent, joins TODAY to discuss Oscar Pistorius taking the stand in his own murder trial.

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>> are joined for the first time by cynthia mcfadden . cynthia, good morning, and welcome to nbc.

>> it's a pleasure to be here, savannah.

>> we have a lot to talk about. before we get into the specifics of what we've heard from pistorius this morning, there's a distinction in the south african legal system when you look at what we do in this country. he really had no choice but to take the stand.

>> effectively, he had no choice. in the u.s., defendants have a right against self-incrimination and many choose not to take the stand. but in south africa , the judge would be permitted to enter a finding that he didn't have a defense at all if he didn't take the stand. so effectively, he had to get up there.

>> basically an adverse inference against him.

>> correct.

>> now, as far as this testimony, we've heard a lot from oscar pistorius this morning about his background, his childhood. certainly how he feels about his prosthetics. i can understand why you would do that before a jury. this is a case being heard by a judge. do those kinds of facts matter as much?

>> sure. i mean, look, the fact-finders, the judge and the two assessors, who by the way, if they agree with her, can overrule her, they're judging demeanor as well. they're looking for credibility. credibility is the person's life story now. his life is essentially in his own hands. and they want to create a case -- i mean, the most critical issue is did he reasonably fire into a door behind which he did not know who was there? did he reasonably take that action? was he reasonably afraid? and so they're trying to create a life story that would make it credible. of course, south africa , the death rate is very high in south africa , it's one of the highest in the world. but they're saying not only was he afraid because he's a south african , he was afraid because he's a man with a disability. he was afraid because he grew up with a single mother who had a gun under her bed, as he just testified.

>> nbc's cynthia mcfadden , welcome, and thank you very much.

>> what a pleasure to be here, savannah.

>> we are glad to have you. we'll be seeing you a lot more, i'm sure.