Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius has escaped a murder conviction, but he has been found guilty of two charges, including culpable homicide for shooting his girlfriend, and could still face a prison sentence.
Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered Mr. Pistorius to rise to his feet to receive the verdicts on Friday morning. He stood calmly at his courtroom bench, his hands folded humbly in front of him, and showed no emotion as he heard the verdicts.
The family and friends of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, including her parents, were visibly upset as they heard the final confirmation that Mr. Pistorius woud be acquitted of murder. Some of her relatives cried, while others sat with grim expressions.
A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority said the authority was disappointed by the murder acquittal, but said the prosecutors won’t decide whether to launch an appeal until after the sentencing.
A hearing has been set for Oct. 13-16 to hear arguments about the sentence, including evidence of mitigating or aggravating factors that could affect the sentence that Mr. Pistorius will receive. In the meantime, the judge allowed Mr. Pistorius to remain free on bail.
Mr. Pistorius could be sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison for culpable homicide, but he could also escape with as little as a suspended sentence if the judge decides to treat him as a first-time offender. He also faces potential jail time for the separate firearms charge, which could be an aggravating factor in the culpable homicide sentence.
Many first-time offenders do not receive a prison sentence for culpable homicide in South Africa. Judge Masipa has a reputation for imposing heavy sentences on men who attack women, but she has also been lenient to some first-time criminal offenders.
Arnold Pistorius, uncle of Oscar Pistorius and the main spokesman for the family, said the family was “deeply grateful” to Judge Masipa for her decision to acquit him of murder. She said the decision had lifted a “big burden” on the family. But he would not comment on the culpable homicide conviction, noting that the sentencing hearing was yet to take place.
The death of Ms. Steenkamp was a “devastating tragedy” and the Pistorius family’s hearts go out to her family and friends, Arnold Pistorius said. He spoke to media in the courtroom about an hour after proceedings ended.
Ms. Steenkamp’s family made no immediate comment to the media, but their disagreement and distress was obvious in their emotions.
Judge Masipa ruled that Mr. Pistorius was guilty of culpable homicide because he was negligent and used excessive force when he fired four bullets from his 9mm pistol at his bathroom door on Valentine’s Day last year, killing Ms. Steenkamp.
She ruled that a reasonable person would have foreseen that the shooting could cause the death of whoever was behind the bathroom door. A reasonable person would also have made a greater effort to avoid killing someone when firing a gun in that situation, she said.
On Thursday, she noted that Mr. Pistorius had many alternatives when he thought he heard an intruder. He could have phoned the police or security offices, or he could have gone to the balcony and called for help, she said. Instead he picked up his gun, walked to the bathroom and fired four bullets in a tight cluster at the door.
Judge Masipa also convicted Mr. Pistorius of negligence for his handling of a Glock pistol in an earlier incident at a crowded restaurant in Johannesburg. Witnesses said he asked a friend for the pistol, which then discharged and fired a bullet into the floor.
PRETORIA — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 12 2014, 2:19 AM EDT
Last updated Friday, Sep. 12 2014, 9:33 AM EDT