Oscar Pistorius trial: Highlights from judge’s ruling
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, September 11, 2014 9:36AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 12, 2014 8:39AM EDT
A judge in South Africa has found Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013. Justice Thokozile Masipa earlier ruled out murder and premeditated murder, saying that the prosecution failed to make its case on either charge.
Pistorius has acknowledged firing the four shots into his locked bathroom that killed Reeva Steenkamp in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2013. He said he thought it was an intruder hiding inside.
In handing down her verdict, Masipa said Pistorius acted negligently the night that Steenkamp died.
“A reasonable person, with a similar disability, would have foreseen that the person behind the door would be killed, and the accused failed to take action to avoid this,” Masipa said.
However, in clearing him of murder, Masipa said there was no proof that Pistorius wanted to kill Steenkamp.
The maximum sentence for culpable homicide is 15 years, but Masipa will ultimately decide how much time Pistorius spends in jail.
Masipa also extended Pistorius’s bail until his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 13.
- The Crown opposed extending the athlete’s bail on the grounds that he is now convicted of a “serious offence,” and poses a flight risk because he sold all of the property he owns in South Africa. The defence said he sold his homes to pay his legal costs.
- In extending Pistorius’s bail, Masipa said the state failed to persuade her that extending bail would not be in the interest of justice.
In addition to the murder charge, Pistorius was being tried on a handful of gun charges related to two separate incidents last year. He was charged with:
- 2 counts of discharging firearms in public.
- 1 count of illegal possession of ammunition.
On Friday, Masipa found Pistorius guilty of one count of discharging a firearm in a public place, relating to an incident in which a gun went off in a restaurant in January 2013. That charge carries a maximum jail sentence of five years.
On Friday, Masipa spent hours reading out her decision for the court without delivering any verdicts before adjourning for the day. She wrapped up her remarks on Friday.
Here are some of the highlights from Thursday’s proceedings:
After reading out the charges against Pistorius, she summarized the state’s case, the facts agreed to by both sides, and then reviewed some of the specific testimony.
- Masipa said testimony from neighbours regarding noises they heard coming from Pistorius’ house was unreliable and therefore had to be rejected “in its entirety.”
- The judge gave various reasons for ruling witness testimony unreliable, including the neighbours’ distance from Pistorius’ house, and her belief that some witnesses couldn’t separate what they saw and heard from what they read in media reports.
Masipa said she accepted the defence timeline of events, in which shots were fired at 3:12 a.m.
- She said that screams heard from the house at that time were not Steenkamp, because the wounds she suffered would have rendered her unconscious. Also, witnesses reported hearing the screams after the shots were fired.
- The defence witnesses who said it was a man crying have a “ring of truth,” Masipa said.
The prosecution presented text messages between Pistorius and Steenkamp, including one in which the young woman said she was “scared” of her boyfriend.
- Masipa ruled that the messages don’t prove anything. “Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable sometimes,” she said.
Masipa rejected a defence argument that the court should consider that Pistorius lacked criminal capacity at the time of the shooting.
- The defence had argued that Pistorius was startled by what he thought was an intruder, which would have been exacerbated by his disability and by his anxiety.
- Masipa disagreed, saying Pistorius made a “conscious decision” to arm himself before going to the bathroom. “This is inconsistent with lack of criminal capacity,” she said.
The judge then went on to call Pistorius “a very poor witness” because he lost his composure under cross-examination.
- Masipa called Pistorius “an evasive witness” who did not always provide direct answers to questions.
Masipa said there were a lot of questions about the series of events the night Steenkamp died.
- According to the judge, “peculiar circumstances” of that night include why Pistorius didn’t check on Steenkamp’s whereabouts before moving toward the bathroom, and why Steenkamp didn’t call police if he yelled for her to do so? Steenkamp was found to have her cellphone with her in the bathroom.
Before taking another morning break, Masipa said Pistorius could not be found guilty of pre-meditated murder, ruling that the evidence was “purely circumstantial.” She also said that the state failed to make the case that Pistorius knew that, by firing the shots, the person behind the door would be killed. She found him not guilty of murder.
After another break, Masipa began with a discussion of culpable homicide and negligence. She noted that Pistorius could have called the police or his neighbourhood security officers before picking up a loaded firearm and making his way to the bathroom.
- Masipa said she did not believe that a reasonable person would have fired four shots into the toilet. A reasonable person would have understood that anyone inside could have been killed.
- Masipa said Pistorius acted “too hastily and used excessive force,” and called his conduct “negligent.”
Just as reporters inside the courtroom thought Masipa was about to render her verdict on culpable homicide, the judge abruptly adjourned court for the day.