Oscar Pistorius on Friday was convicted of culpable homicide by a South African judge who found him negligent in firing four gunshots into a locked toilet cubicle in his home last year, killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius, who was acquitted of murder charges, could face significant prison time on the negligent killing conviction, or none, depending on how reckless he was in the view of Judge Thokozile Masipa. The judge allowed Pistorius to remain free on bail despite the prosecution’s request to place him in custody until sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 13.
The judge said Pistorius’ behavior the morning of the shooting on Valentine’s Day 2013 included shouting for help, calling an ambulance and security, trying to save Steenkamp's life and praying to God to save her. She accepted the defense that he had believed an intruder was in the cubicle, rather than prosecutors’ contention that he wanted to kill Steenkamp after they had argued.
“The conduct of the accused shortly after the incident is inconsistent with the conduct of someone who intended to commit murder,” Masipa said. “From the above it cannot be said that the accused did not entertain a genuine belief that there was an intruder in the bathroom who posed a direct threat to his life.”
Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry, looked grim as Masipa read her verdict. Steenkamp’s close friend Gina Myers burst into tears.
June Steenkamp said later in a television interview that she believed the sentence was wrong and couldn’t believe the court saw the shooting of her daughter, a 29-year-old model, as an accident.
“I just don’t feel this is the right sentence. They believe his story, and I don’t believe his story. That’s the difference,” she told NBC News. "She died a horrible death. A horrible, painful, terrible death. And she suffered, you know? He shot through the door, and I can’t believe that they believe that it was an accident.”
For Pistorius, a double amputee who competed in the 2012 Olympics in London running on prosthetic legs, and his family, there was immense relief that he had been acquitted of murder.
“That's a big burden off us, off our shoulders and Oscar. We always knew the facts of the matter and we had never any doubt in Oscar's version of this tragic incident,” Arnold Pistorius, an uncle, later told reporters, with his wife, Lois, at his side. “And furthermore, in a tragic event like this, there’s no victors in this. It won’t bring Reeva back, but our hearts still go out to her family and friends.”
Masipa also convicted Pistorius, 27, of recklessly discharging a gun in a restaurant full of patrons, saying he showed no regard for their safety.
“He should not have asked for a firearm in a public place full of patrons, let alone handled it,” Masipa said.
She acquitted him of illegal possession of ammunition and firing a pistol out a car sunroof. She said the two witnesses, Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor and ex-friend Darren Fresco, differed on key details, leaving doubt. However, Masipa said Taylor’s evidence had a “ring of truth” to it.
Pistorius used excessive, unreasonable force when he fired shots into the toilet cubicle, said the judge, who began reading her verdicts Thursday. Masipa also said prosecutors had not proved that he was guilty of premeditated murder.
Prosecutors were deeply disappointed with the judgment, said Nathi Mncube, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority.
“We believe there is sufficient and credible evidence to secure a conviction,” he said, referring to the murder charge. A decision on an appeal will be made after sentencing, Mncube said. The state can appeal only if the judge erred in law.
The verdicts in the trial, which has lasted more than six months, generated mixed reactions, with many people saying they were stunned that the judge cleared Pistorius of murder charges.
When the court recessed for a short break Friday after his conviction for negligent killing, Pistorius remained in his place for a few minutes, then stood up, alone, fiddling with notes, showing no emotion. His sister, Aimee Pistorius, was the first to approach and comfort him. Other family members stood in their places, as though still digesting his conviction.
A short time later, his father, Henke Pistorius, from whom the athlete has been estranged, approached, smiled, and the two embraced. It was a brief encounter, then the older Pistorius retreated and stood at the side of the courtroom.
Meanwhile, in an interview published Friday in the London Daily Mirror, Taylor described Pistorius, whom she dated for 18 months before he left her for Steenkamp, as controlling, jealous and at times terrifying.
“Oscar used to lock me in his house and then go out,” she said. “I had no food, I couldn’t get out. It was dangerous.”
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