JOHANNESBURG — A judge found South African athlete Oscar Pistorius not
guilty of premeditated murder Thursday in the shooting death of his
girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but said the defendant had been
“negligent,” raising the prospect of a culpable homicide, or
Judge Thokozile Masipa, after reading a lengthy explanation of the
evidence and charges, recessed the court until Friday without
rendering a final verdict.
Oscar Pistorius sits in the Pretoria High Court on Sept. 11 in
Pretoria, South Africa.
But she did tell the court that she found that Pistorius “acted too
hastily and used excessive force” when he fired four times into the
door of a toilet stall in his apartment, killing Steenkamp.
“It is it is clear that his conduct was negligent,” she said.
The Olympic and Paralympic athlete, known as the Blade Runner for his
use of specially designed prosthetic legs, was on trial for the
shooting death of his 29-year-old girlfriend on Valentine’s Day in
Prosecutors accused Pistorius of intentionally killing her by firing
through the door of a toilet stall where, they alleged, she had taken
refuge following an argument.
Pistorius claimed he thought Steenkamp was in bed and that he
accidentally shot her through the bathroom door, mistakenly believing
there was an intruder in his home.
The judge earlier said state prosecutors failed to prove that
Pistorius is guilty of either premeditated murder or second-degree
murder, thus ruling out those charges.
Seated in the dock, the 27-year-old Pistorius frequently sobbed and
held his head in his hands as the judge ruled on the most serious
But after a lunch break, the judge came back to criticize Pistorius
for his conduct the night of the killing.
A reasonable person, she said, “would have foreseen if he fired shots
at the door, the person inside the toilet might be struck and die as a
If he had felt threatened by an intruder, the judge said, “all the
accused had to do was to pick up his cell phone to call security or
the police. He could have run to the balcony and screamed in the same
way he had screamed after the incident.”
Pistorius, she said, “had reasonable time to reflect, to think and to
conduct himself reasonably.”
The defendant also faces a verdict on two charges relating to the
discharge of a firearm in a public place and one charge of illegal
possession of ammunition.Masipa, not a jury, decided the verdict in
line with South African legal custom.
If Pistorius had been found guilty of premeditated murder he could
have received 25 years in jail. A conviction of culpable homicide
carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence but no minimum, according to
The judge, in rendering her verdict, called Pistorius “evasive” on the
stand and a “very poor witness” who often contradicted himself, but
said the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“During his evidence, he seemed composed and logical… [but] under
cross examination he lost his composure…[and it seemed] the accused
was suffering from enormous emotional stress and was traumatized by
reliving the incident,” she said.
“The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder dolus
eventualis [legal intent] … that however is not the end of the
matter as culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” said Masipa.