The trial of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track star who has been accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will wrap up either Thursday or Friday in South Africa when Judge Thokozile Masipa delivers her verdict after hearing testimony from 37 witnesses over a span of more than six months. Here’s a breakdown of what’s at stake.
1. What has been Pistorius charged with?
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius fired four shots through a bathroom door at his home, killing Steenkamp. He has been charged with premeditated murder, two charges of firing a gun in a public space and one charge of illegally possessing ammunition. Pistorius pleaded not guilty to all the charges but admitted killing Steenkamp, saying he had mistaken her for an intruder. The prosecution has tried to prove that Pistorius killed Steenkamp after the couple had an argument, and multiple witnesses have said they heard sounds of a quarrel from Pistorius’s house before the shooting.
2. Who will decide Pistorius’s fate?
The decision rests entirely in the hands of Masipa, as South Africa has no trial by jury. The judge will be assisted by two legal advisers, but the decision will be entirely hers. The Associated Press has a good summation of what we can expect from the judge on Thursday:
The judge will give a summary of the testimony of all 37 witnesses. Masipa will then give her assessment of each witness — including Pistorius — and what was accepted or rejected from their testimony. Then, she will give a summary of her own findings based on how she interpreted the evidence and how it ties in with the law. Finally, she will pronounce Pistorius guilty or not guilty on the charges: Murder, two charges of unlawfully shooting a gun in public in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.
3. What if Pistorius is found guilty?
If Pistorius is found guilty of premeditated murder, he faces a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, after which he can be granted a parole hearing. However, Pistorius could be found not guilty of premeditated murder and still face a lengthy prison sentence, as Masipa could still find him guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) even though he has not been charged with that crime. According to the Guardian, “There is no prescribed sentence for culpable homicide in South African law and the sentence can be decided at the discretion of the judge based on the weight of evidence and circumstances surrounding the incident.”
It all boils down to whether Masipa believes Pistorius acted with intent when he shot and killed Steenkamp.
The firearm and ammunition charges carry sentences of two to five years in prison, or a simple fine.
4. What if Pistorius is found not guilty?
He’s free to go, and according to the Guardian, he “would reserve the right to institute a civil case against the minister of police and justice for damages he felt he might have incurred during his prosecution.”
5. What about sentencing?
If Pistorius is found guilty, Masipa will decide his sentence at a separate hearing. “In what amounts to a second trial, prosecutors could call members of Steenkamp’s family, maybe her mother and father, to testify for sentencing. Defense lawyers might call psychiatrists to argue for a lighter sentence,” the AP writes.
6. Will Pistorius appeal the verdict if he’s found guilty?
Legal expert Marius du Toit told the AP that it’s “extremely likely” Pistorius will appeal any guilty verdict. Pistorius also could lodge an appeal challenging the length of the sentence handed down by Masipa. If found guilty, Pistorius likely will remain free on bail until his sentencing, the AP reports, though Masipa has the right to order him incarcerated immediately.
7. When will the verdict be announced?
It’s expected that Masipa’s recounting of the case could take much of the day on Thursday. The verdict might not be delivered until Friday.