Pistorius cleared of premeditated murder

Verdict on culpable homicide likely today

Pistorius cleared of  premeditated murder

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius was cleared on Thursday of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

Dubbed the “Blade Runner”, the South African sprinter faces a troubled night after Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned till Friday before ruling on a charge of culpable homicide.

Although Masipa described Pistorius as a “very poor” and “evasive” witness, she said it did not mean he was necessarily guilty in a case heavily reliant on circumstantial evidence.

“The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder,” she said. “There are just not enough facts to support such a finding.” She then proceeded to absolve Pistorius of a lesser murder charge that requires a different concept of intention, known by the legal term “dolus eventualis”, which holds one responsible for the foreseeable consequences of his/her actions.

“Clearly, he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door–let alone the deceased–as he thought she was in the bedroom,” she said.“I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force. It is clear that his conduct was negligent,” she told the packed courtroom. She also said he had not acted “reasonably”.

The defence said Pistorius shot Steenkamp as a result of a tragic accident after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a locked toilet door. As Masipa delivered her verdict, Pistorius, who would have faced at least 25 years behind bars if convicted, sat sobbing in the dock, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Culpable homicide–the South African equivalent of Britain's manslaughter–carries up to 15 years in prison but has no minimum sentence.

Theatrical prosecutor Nel, who had painted Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hot-head who whooped with joy when he blew apart a water-melon with a high-calibre pistol, was forced to watch as Masipa zeroed in on the few hard facts, brushing aside his courtroom antics and attempts to discredit the athlete. She also rejected a mass of instant messaging evidence presented by both prosecution and defence to suggest, respectively, that the couple's relationship was on the rocks or loving and strong.

"Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable most of the time, while human beings are fickle," she said. "None of the evidence of a loving relationship, or a relationship turned sour, can assist this court." Pistorius was charged with one count of murder and three firearms offences. He could still be found guilty of culpable homicide, carrying anything from a suspended sentence to a lengthy prison stretch, or he could be acquitted. 

A charge of premeditated murder would have meant a life sentence in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails. The trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts veering into the realm of TV reality shows.

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