Related story: “The audacity of Oscar Pistorius”
Graphic: Pistorius’s version
A South African judge this morning found double-amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty of “culpable homicide,” the unintentional killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He could face a jail term of up to 15 years.
Pistorius was found not guilty of intentionally killing Steenkamp. Judge Thokozile Masipa said the prosecution had not proven the intent to kill necessary for a premeditated murder conviction. There were too many questionable witnesses, she said, and prosecutors were unable to prove his intent.
But she said he acted unreasonably — with negligence — when he fired through a bathroom door thinking an intruder was inside his home, only later to discover that Steenkamp was in the bathroom.
Under the circumstances, she had said Thursday, he had sufficient time to call for help. Instead, he picked up the 9mm gun he kept under his bed, walked to the bathroom door and opened fire. That core finding produced the “culpable murder” conviction.
Sentencing proceedings will begin on October 13. The judge released Pistorius on bail until then. The prosecution could appeal the murder acquittal, challenging the judge’s interpretation of the law.
Pistorius, who became famous for rejecting the notion he was disabled, or anything other than abled, nevertheless used his disability as part of his defense, saying that his fear stemmed in part from the fact that he wasn’t wearing his prosthetic legs and that he suffered generally from anxiety associated with his condition.
Masipa rejected that argument, saying that all kinds of people with disabilities in South Africa are afraid of crime but don’t keep firearms under their beds or go around shooting when they fear harm.
The judge additionally convicted the 27-year-old Pistorius on an unrelated gun charge. Prosecutors portrayed him as a bit of a gun nut.
In contrast to his weeping and vomiting throughout much of the trial, Pistorius only rubbed his face and slumped forward after the verdict, which was read as he stood before the judge. Any suspense about the outcome had disappeared Thursday when Masipa explained her reasoning prior to the formal pronouncement of the verdict Friday.
The crime took place on Valentine’s Day in 2013, just about six months after Pistorius ran in the London Olympics on the springy prosthetic legs that earned him the nickname “Blade Runner,” along with worldwide glory, endorsements and the status of an iron man. His trial, the global media attention and his fall from grace have been compared to that of O.J. Simpson.
Steenkamp and Pistorius had been dating since November 2012. Prosecutors said the two had argued the night before the killing and that Pistorius meant to kill Steenkamp.
Pistorius and his lawyers said he had heard noises coming from the bathroom, suspected an intruder, grabbed his gun and fired in fear, only later discovering he had killed Steenkamp.
In a statement on behalf of the athlete’s family following the verdict, Pistorus’s uncle Arnold Pistorius said that there are “no victors” in the trial, adding, “We as a family remain deeply affected by the devastating tragedy … It won’t bring Reeva back but our hearts still go out for her family and friends.”
As the Guardian noted, Arnold Pistorius added that the family was grateful the judge cleared Oscar of murder charges. The family won’t make further statements on the matter, as sentencing is still pending.
[This post has been updated]