South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of the most serious charges against him — premeditated murder and a lesser charge of murder — in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. However, he is still awaiting the verdict on a charge of culpable homicide.
Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa spent several hours today reading her full verdict from the bench and is still not finished addressing all of the charges. The court will meet again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. local time to continue the reading, meaning the day ended on quite the cliffhanger. South Africa does not have jury trials, so the decision is made solely by a judge and assessors. In this case, Masipa had two assessors.
In formulating her verdict, Masipa pointed out numerous problems with both the prosecution and defense arguments. In particular, she found Pistorius to be a poor witness who contradicted himself during cross-examination. Masipa disputed his claim that he had no intention to shoot that night, since he grabbed a loaded gun.
"During his evidence, he seemed composed and logical [but] under cross examination he lost his composure [and it seemed] the accused was suffering from enormous emotional stress and was traumatized by reliving the incident," said the judge, "The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder dolus eventualis [legal intent] ... that however is not the end of the matter as culpable homicide is a competent verdict."
On the first and most serious count, however, the judge found that the "evidence is purely circumstantial" and fails to meet the standard of reasonable doubt. The judge then took a five-minute break before resuming her reading of the verdict.
When she returned, Masipa announced that Pistorius was also not guilty of a lesser charge of murder. That charge would have required that he reasonably believed he was killing whoever was behind his bathroom door when he fired his gun. She also stated that there was "nothing in the evidence to suggest that Mr Pistorius' belief" that there was an intruder in his home "was not genuinely entertained." Pistorius became visibly shaken during key moment of the reading, lowering his head and sobbing at various points.
Following that verdict, the judge adjourned the court for lunch break, without announcing the verdict on the third serious charge, culpable homicide. When they returned from that long break, Masipa began to address the third charge, saying a "reasonable person" might have fled or called help before arming themselves, and would not have shot blindly into the bathroom, adding, "It is clear his conduct was negligent.” However, she immediately adjourned court for the rest of the day, without rendering a final verdict or sentence.
Today's day in court ended with Pistorius quietly meeting with his attorney, Brian Webber, and the Steenkamp family filing out quickly.
On Valentine's Day of 2013, Pistorius' girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot and killed in the bathroom of his Johannesburg home. Pistorius had fired four rounds from his handgun through the closed door of the bathroom, killing her instantly. Pistorius claimed he believed Steenkamp was an intruder and shot her in self defense.
The culpable homicide charges carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but there is no minimum, so the judge has a lot of discretion. Legal experts told The New York Times that a verdict may not be final because the case could be appealed in a higher court.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.