Oscar Pistorius guilty of homicide in killing of girlfriend
PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — A judge has found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, the South African term for unintentionally, but unlawfully, killing a person. It’s akin to negligent killing.
A day before the verdict Friday, Judge Thokozile Masipa cleared Pistorius of murder in the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
His sentencing starts on October 13, the judge said after granting him bail.
The customary maximum prison sentence for culpable homicide is 15 years, but a typical sentence is five to eight years, said Kelly Phelps, a CNN legal analyst.
The verdict also dealt with three other charges, all weapons-related.
He was found not guilty of two — a car sunroof shooting incident and illegal possession of ammunition found at his house.
The judge found Pistorius guilty of the third: a charge involving a shooting at a restaurant. The maximum penalty for that is five years behind bars. But he could get a lesser sentence, such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.
Shortly after the verdict, his uncle said they were relieved that he was convicted of a lesser charge, but there were “no victors” in the case.
“It won’t bring Reeva back, but our hearts still go out for her family and friends,” Arnold Pistorius said.
In the shooting from the car’s sunroof, Masipa said the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. She said she didn’t find the state’s witnesses persuasive, and their versions of events differed.
In the second charge, Pistorius was found not guilty of having illegal ammunition at his house. Masipa said the state failed to introduce evidence that proved he intended to possess the ammunition. Pistorius had said he was storing it in a safe for his father.
In the restaurant shooting, she said the state had proved its case. Pistorius, she said, was trained in the use of guns and should not have handled one at the restaurant.
Letting the world know
Masipa presided impassively over the high-profile trial for months. She finally let the world know what she was thinking on the first day of the verdict Thursday.
Pistorius did not intend to kill his girlfriend, she said, accepting his defense that he thought he was defending himself from an intruder.
Pistorius, 27, has always admitted firing the bullets that killed his girlfriend Steenkamp, a 29-year-old cover model about to turn reality TV star. He pleaded not guilty to murdering her in his home on Valentine’s Day last year, saying the killing was a tragic mistake.
But in grabbing his gun and heading toward the supposed threat, Pistorius “acted too hastily and used excessive force,” Masipa ruled Thursday.
“His conduct was negligent” and not what a reasonable man would do in the circumstances — not even a disabled one, she said.
Defense arguments that his upbringing “in a crime-riddled environment and in a home where the mother was paranoid and always carried a firearm” might explain his conduct that night, but “it does not excuse the conduct,” Masipa said.
“The accused had reasonable time to reflect, to think and to conduct himself reasonably,” she said.
There is no minimum sentence for culpable homicide in South African law, so it will be up to the judge to decide.
Not guilty of murder
Masipa on Thursday found Pistorius not guilty of murder, premeditated or otherwise.
She said the prosecution had failed to prove its case that Pistorius and Steenkamp argued on the night of the killing, and that the Olympic track star then shot her in a rage.
Masipa was not persuaded by the testimony of neighbors who said they heard shouting, screaming and shots.
The neighbors’ stories do not match the timings on phone records the night of the killing, she concluded, saying: “Technology is more reliable than human perception and human memory.”
She said she believed media coverage had contaminated testimonies, and that state witnesses were in and out of sleep the night of the killing.
She knocked down other key aspects of the state’s case: the fact that Steenkamp took her phone and locked herself in the bathroom allegedly out of fear for her safety, phone messages between the couple that showed some rocky patches, and stomach contents that might suggest the victim ate later than Pistorius said.
Pistorius wept softly during the reading of the lengthy verdict.