Pistorius cleared of murder but threat of long prison sentence still hangs over him
Oscar Pistorius has been cleared of all murder charges by a South African judge but could still face a charge of culpable homicide after shooting dead his former girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Judge Thokozile Masipa said today that the prosecution had failed to prove that the six-time Paralympic gold medallist deliberately killed Steenkamp when he shot her at his home in Pretoria on February 14 last year.
After clearing Pistorius of premeditated murder, Judge Masipa then adjourned proceedings for over an hour-and-a-half to consider whether the 27-year-old was guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, which can carry a punishment of anything from a fine to a maximum 15 years in prison.
Pistorius is also facing charges of firing a gun in public and illegally possessing ammunition.
Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
But, after returning from lunch, Judge Masipa surprised everyone by promptly announcing that she was adjourning the court until tomorrow morning as she sifts through the judgement which is expected to be well over 100 pages.
Pistorius wiped away tears from his face in front of a packed courthouse, including members of his own family and the parents of Steenkamp, after the judge cleared him of murder.
“The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder,” said Judge Masipa in the morning session, going on to question the reliability of several prosecution witnesses accusing them of getting “facts wrong” when they claimed to have heard screams and gunshots on the night of the incident.
“There are just not enough facts to support such a finding.
“The accused’s erroneous belief that his life was in danger excludes dolus.
“The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder, dolus eventualis.
“That however is not the end of the matter, as culpable homicide is a competent verdict.”
Prosecutors had alleged Pistorius murdered Steenkamp following an argument.
Pistorius claims he fired four shots through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home because he thought there were intruders.
Three of those bullets struck the 29-year-old model and law graduate, killing her.
Pistorius has always claimed that he believed Steenkamp was in the bedroom when he went to the adjoining toilet where he said he thought he heard noises coming from and began shooting.
The couple had been dating for three months and Pistorius denied they had been arguing on the night of the shooting.
Described as a “hothead” by the prosecution, Pistorius underwent a psychiatric examination at the behest of Judge Masipa in July which found that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but no mental illnes that could prevent him being held criminally responsible for his actions.
While clearing the athlete of murder, Judge Masipa, who described Pistorius as an evasive witness, said that his conduct was negligent and hasty and that any reasonable person would not have fired.
The final verdict due to be delivered tomorrow will bring an end to a trial that began on March 3.
This article first appeared in Inside the Games and has been reproduced with permission. The original article can be viewed by clicking here.