The judge who will decide Oscar Pistorious' fate took center stage on Thursday after she found the Olympian not guilty of premeditated murder. As the world waits for her to deliver the final verdict on the charge of culpable homicide in the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, every ounce of Thokozile Matilda Masipa's history is being analyzed for clues as to how she'll rule.
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 and can sentence Pistorius for up to 15 years if he is found guilty of culpable homicide.
Judge Masipa is wrong in law, shooting at a toilet door knowing very well somebody is inside you accepts possibility of killing #OscarTrial— Jabulani wase Voti (@sjakavoti) September 11, 2014
I support Judge M RT @RAI777GP Hahahaha I'm luving the hatred towards judge Masipa now. .They say her glass of water is mixed with vodka— Azanian_©adre (@Fighter_Phuti) September 11, 2014
So 2 everyone who said "You're wrong about Judge Masipa" allow me 2 say I was right frm the start" Sadly,I expected this. #Nojusticef4reeva— Barbara Volkwyn (@barbara_volkwyn) September 11, 2014
It's a polarizing decision that's placed the judge with a "reputation for toughness" in the spotlight. According to ABC News, Masipa has been harsh on those convicted of violence against women, having previously sentenced a man who raped three women to 252 years in prison, as well as a police officer who killed his wife to a life sentence. "You deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector," she told the latter while delivering her sentence. "You are a killer."
"She's very clever, very professional," Susan Abro, a senior attorney who served with Masipa on the electoral court, told ABC News. "She comes from a human rights background, so that's the point."
The 66-year-old was born in Soweto in 1947 as the oldest of 10 children. Thokozile, which means "happy" in Zulu, was a newspaper reporter at South Africa's The Post before turning to the law in her 40s and becoming the second black woman appointed as a High Court judge in the country.
"It is a tough place to be, because for a long time it was only men who sat here, and in our culture it's even tougher, because some men are just not used to seeing women giving orders," she once said. "But one gets used to it. It's not you as a woman who's there — it's the position that you fill. So you just get on with it."
Masipa meticulously addressed each charge Thursday. (She's believed to have accumulated about 100 pages of notes on the case.) Even so, Johannesburg-based lawyers say she may have been too lenient with her verdict. "I think she's going to get quite a lot of criticism from the judiciary and the legal system," criminal lawyer Martin Hood told News24. "The consensus is that she hasn't got it right."
Still, Masipa will have to deliver her final verdict on the charge of culpable homicide. She had previously described Pistorius as a "very poor" and "evasive" witness, but that there has not been enough evidence to warrant finding him guilty for murder.
Legal experts have added the state may question the ruling. "I think the verdict on premeditated murder is acceptable and well reasoned and not a surprise," Stephen Tuson, a law professor at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand, told Reuters. "However, on dolus eventualis [the legal term for holding someone responsible for the foreseeable consequences], I think the state would arguably be able to appeal."