Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide
Yahoo News reports that Judge Thokozile Masipa handed down her decision Friday, a day after revealing to a packed courthouse and worldwide television audience that she would not find Pistorius guilty of murder – premeditated or otherwise. Instead, her determination is that the death of Reeva Steenkamp in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day last year was a tragic accident; that while Pistorius “acted hastily and used excessive force,” he did not show intend to kill his girlfriend.
As Masipa read the verdict, Steenkamp’s parents remained silent, their faces drawn. Steenkamp’s cousin Kim began sobbing in the public gallery.
Pistorius also faced three counts of gun charges – two for discharging a gun in public, one for illegal possession of ammunition. Masipa found him guilty of one of those charges – negligently handling a firearm in a restaurant.
Per South African law, the verdict of culpable homicide carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, but does not call for a minimum sentence. The gun charge carries no minimum sentence, meaning Pistorius could receive no jail time whatsoever.
As court adjourned briefly for the judge to finalize sentencing hearing dates, Pistorius sat alone, silent and pensive, his head bowed in the dock. Joined by his sister Aimee, who laid her head on his shoulder, he leaned against her and closed his eyes.
Court will now be postponed until Pistorius’ defense is ready to present their arguments for the mitigation of his sentence, with the prosecution likely countering with a push for an aggravation of the potential length of his prison time.
Legal experts say the arguments that follow could potentially constitute a “mini-trial” of sorts, with both sides able to lead evidence, request expert reports, or call witnesses to the stand – even previous witnesses including Pistorius himself – in their efforts to influence Masipa’s decision. The prosecution can put a Steenkamp family member in the box as part of their argument for aggravation of sentence.
In deciding against the premeditated murder charge, Masipa said in her summation Thursday that the prosecution “failed to show requisite intention to kill the deceased, let alone premeditation.”
Also on Thursday she dismissed a charge of dolus eventualis – the grey area between premeditated murder and culpable homicide – on the grounds that Pistorius, in her determination, did not subjectively foresee killing whoever was behind the locked bathroom door on Valentine’s Day morning last year.
In finding Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, Masipa explained that “the accused acted negligently when he fired shots into the toilet door knowing that here was someone behind the door and that there was very little room to maneuver.
“A reasonable person,” she continued, “therefore in the position of the accused with similar disability, would have foreseen that possibility that whoever was behind the door, might be killed by the shots, and would have taken steps to avoid the consequences, and the accused in this matter failed to take those consequences.”
There has been much controversy, particularly amongst South Africa’s legal community, about Masipa’s ruling and interpretation of the law around the concept of dolus eventualis. She found Pistorius not guilty of murder on the basis that he did not foresee that his actions in firing his 9mm could result in death. But it could be argued that it should be interpreted that Pistorius should have foreseen his actions could cause death, but recklessly proceeds anyway.
If Masipa hands down a stiff sentence for the culpable homicide verdict – sentencing is expected in the next few weeks – it’s unlikely the state will appeal.
While the decision still means Pistorius could spend a significant amount of time behind bars, it is not