Monday 9 December 2019

Pistorius cries as cleared of Reeva Steenkamp's murder

Athlete could still face 15 years in prison for manslaughter conviction

Oscar Pistorius cries in the dock in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday Sept. 11, 2014 as Judge Thokozile Masipa reads notes as she delivers her verdict in Pistorius' murder trial. The South African judge in Oscar Pistorius murder trial said Thursday that prosecutors have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the double-amputee Olympic athlete is guilty of premeditated murder. (AP Photo/Phil Magakoe, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius cries in the dock in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday Sept. 11, 2014 as Judge Thokozile Masipa reads notes as she delivers her verdict in Pistorius' murder trial. The South African judge in Oscar Pistorius murder trial said Thursday that prosecutors have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the double-amputee Olympic athlete is guilty of premeditated murder. (AP Photo/Phil Magakoe, Pool)
Judge Thokozile Masipa reads her verdict during the trial of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, September 11, 2014. Masipa said on Thursday there was "some doubt" a woman screamed on the night when Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year because of contradictory witness testimony. REUTERS/Kim Ludbrook/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS ENTERTAINMENT CRIME LAW)
June Steenkamp, mother of Reeva Steenkamp, waits for the verdict in the trial of South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Kim Ludbrook/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS CRIME LAW)
Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock in court in Pretoria, South Africa (AP)

Ryan Hooper, Hayden Smith and David Wilcock

The judge in Oscar Pistorius' trial said today that he cannot be found guilty of murder but that he was negligent in the killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Judge Thokozile Masipa's comments raise the possibility that the double-amputee Olympian will be convicted of culpable homicide.

Reeva Steenkamp
Reeva Steenkamp

Ms Masipa said she felt Pistorius acted negligently when he fatally shot Ms Steenkamp.

The judge then stopped delivering her judgement and adjourned until tomorrow, when a formal verdict in the case that has riveted much of South Africa and the world is expected.

Henke Pistorius (R) kisses the hand of his daughter Aimee Pistorius (L) during the judgement of his son Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, September 11, 2014. A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges on Thursday, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year. REUTERS/Phill Magakoe.
Henke Pistorius (R) kisses the hand of his daughter Aimee Pistorius (L) during the judgement of his son Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, September 11, 2014. A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges on Thursday, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year. REUTERS/Phill Magakoe.

While the judge did not announce any formal verdicts, she indicated Pistorius would not be convicted on premeditated murder or a lesser murder charge, but that may he be vulnerable to being convicted of culpable homicide, or in other words a negligent killing.

That normally carries a five-year jail sentence in South Africa but it can be changed by a judge depending on the specific circumstances of the killing.

The 27-year-old athlete sobbed after he was found not guilty of pre-meditated murder and the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

But judge Thokozile Masipa said the double-amputee would have to wait until tomorrow to discover if he will be found guilty of manslaughter.

Henke Pistorius (R), father of Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, arrives to hear the verdict in his son's trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Henke Pistorius (R), father of Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, arrives to hear the verdict in his son's trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

She described his conduct in the moments before his model girlfriend died as "negligent".

She told the court in Pretoria that Pistorius acted "hastily" with "too much force" as he fired four bullets through his toilet door in the early hours of Valentine's Day, 2013.

The athlete told police he mistook his girlfriend for burglars.

Read more: Oscar waiting in the wings as curtain comes down on trial

The athlete, dubbed Blade Runner due to his prosthetic limbs, has always admitted he shot law graduate-turned-model Ms Steenkamp.

He wept in court earlier as he was acquitted of the more serious murder charges, the judge pausing to adjourn for a break before returning to deliver her verdict on the charge of culpable homicide - the UK equivalent of manslaughter.

But Pistorius was also described by the judge as a "very poor witness", who "lost his composure" during cross-examination.

Continuing to deliver her verdict this afternoon, judge Masipa said: "There were other means available to you to deal with threats to his life.

"All the accused had to do was pick up his cell phone and ring security, or run to the balcony and call for help.

"Many people in this country have experienced crime or the effects thereof, directly or indirectly at some time or another.

"Many have been victims of violent crime but have not resorted to sleeping with firearms under their pillows.

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius reacts during judgement at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Phill Magakoe
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius reacts during judgement at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Phill Magakoe

Read more: Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp: The Posh and Becks of South Africa

"If the accused, for example, had awoken in the middle of the night and in darkness seen a silhouette by his bed and in a panic shot at that figure, only to find it was the deceased, his conduct would have been understandable and perhaps excusable.

"In such a situation he would not have been expected to call security first as he would be faced with a real emergency."

She added: "The accused had reasonable time to think, reflect and conduct himself.

"I'm not persuaded that a reasonable person with the same disability would have fired the four shots.

"The accused knew there was a person behind the toilet door, he chose to use a firearm.

"Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the accused have foreseen the possibility that if he fired four shots whoever was behind the toilet might be struck and die as a result?

Read mroe: How Pistorius overcame the odds to become a national hero

"Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the accused have guarded against that possibility? The answer to both questions is yes.

"Did the accused fail to take steps which he should have reasonably taken to guard against the consequence? Again the answer is yes.

"I am of the view the accused acted too hastily and used too much force. It is clear his conduct is negligent."

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