Judge Clears Pistorius of Murder, but Blade Runner May Still Get Jail
Judge Thokozile Masipa read her summation of the evidence Thursday in front of a packed courthouse in Pretoria, South Africa, and a worldwide television audience. Pistorius was pensive as the judge waded through her judgment.
Masipa will deliver the final judgment Friday. She did reveal in her Thursday summation that she determined Pistorius to have been “negligent,” which means he could still be found guilty of culpable homicide, a conviction that comes with a maximum of 15 years in prison but carries no mandatory jail sentence.
“He acted too hastily and used excessive force,” Masipa said.
Pistorius also faces firearms charges that carry potential prison sentences.
But a murder charge is out, for the time being anyway. The prosecution can appeal the decision and, if they do, Pistorius could still be convicted of murder, according to legal experts contacted by Yahoo reporters.
All along, the prosecution pressed for a conviction for cold-blooded murder. But the Blade Runner has always maintained it was a tragic accident, that he shot his girlfriend in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s morning last year in a moment of terror, believing that he was protecting them both from an intruder locked behind a bathroom door.
In her summation, Masipa said the prosecution “failed to show requisite intention to kill the deceased, let alone premeditation.”
Masipa called Pistorius a “very poor witness,” saying he was “evasive” in the face of prosecution questioning. Still, in her opinion that did not warrant a guilty verdict on the charge of premeditated murder, or even dolus eventualis – the grey area between premeditated murder and culpable homicide.
Under dolus eventualis, if Pistorius should have foreseen that his actions could result in death, yet recklessly proceeded anyway, it still would have been considered murder in South African law. That would have come with a minimum sentence of 15 years.
Relying on phone records and “objective evidence,” including the timings of the Guard Track facility outside Pistorius’ home, Masipa appeared to accept the defense’s timeline of events, based on the athlete’s account of the evening.
Masipa dismissed much of the testimony delivered by Pistorius’ neighbours, saying that many witnesses “got things wrong,” potentially because of media coverage of the trial and the fallibility of human memory. She determined that witnesses had been mistaken in their interpretation of sounds – confusing the sound of gunshots with the cricket bat breaking the toilet door, and Pistorius’ screams with those of a woman.
The interpretations of sound are crucial, as the state’s case largely hinged on the sequence of events. If, as several neighbors claimed, they heard a woman scream, then clearly Pistorius would have known who was behind the locked bathroom door before firing his gun. However, if it was Pistorius screaming, as he contends, then it follows his version of events.
Based on the state pathologist’s report on Steenkamp’s injuries, Masipa determined Reeva would have been “unable to shout or scream, at least in the manner described by the witnesses,” especially given the rapidity of the shots. The screams were likely a distressed Pistorius, Masipa found, contradicting the prosecution’s contention.