PRETORIA, South Africa – A judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of murder on Thursday, but said there was “no doubt” the double-amputee acted unlawfully when he shot and killed his girlfriend.
After ruling out that Pistorius’ actions were premeditated, Judge Thokozile Masipa also said the athlete could not be found guilty of the lesser charge of murder.
“Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door, let alone the deceased as he thought she was in the bedroom,” Masipa told the court as Pistorius sobbed and shook in the dock.
“That, however, is not the end of the matter,” Masipa said, pausing for lunch before returning briefly to begin considering the notion of “culpable homicide” – similar to a manslaughter charge in the U.S.
She told the court that there was “no reason nor explanation” why Pistorius didn’t call for help if he suspected an intruder and why he instead picked up a loaded gun.
Masipa said she was “not convinced that a reasonable person” with the same disability as the double amputee would have fired four shots into the bathroom without realizing that the person inside could be killed.
“In the circumstances, it is clear that his conduct was negligent,” she said, then abruptly adjourned court for the day. The verdict will continue on Friday.
Pistorius – often called the “Blade Runner” because of his blade-shaped prosthetic limbs – shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp while she was in the bathroom of his luxury Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year. The prosecution accused him of killing Steenkamp intentionally after a fight, while Pistorius’ defense team argued that he fired his weapon at the bathroom door believing she was an intruder.
Although Judge Masipa said there were “not enough facts” to prove premeditated murder, she heavily criticized Pistorius as a “very poor witness” who was evasive in his testimony during the trial.
The athlete “failed to listen carefully to questions put to him, giving the impression that he was more worried about the impact his answers might cause,” the judge told the court. When contradictions were pointed out to him “he often blamed his legal team,” she added.
Masipa also dismissed the defense’s claims that the athlete suffered temporary “insanity” and did not know the difference between right and wrong the night he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius had been referred during the trial for psychiatric assessment to see if his mental state meant he lacked the criminal capacity for murder.
Earlier in the day’s session, the judge cast doubt on “most” of the trial’s witnesses, saying they “got their facts wrong” and suggesting that media coverage of the case might have tainted their memories. The court was “fortunate” it could rely on technological evidence, such as phone calls and messages, she said.