The judge who presided over the trial of Oscar Pistorius has been strongly criticised by South Africa’s Supreme Court for making “fundamental” errors and “ignoring” key evidence during last year’s trial.
In an extraordinary twist in the case, Judge Eric Leach last night threw out Thokozile Masipa’s original verdict of culpable homicide and replaced it with murder.
Judge Leach said Judge Masipa made multiple “errors in law” in her ruling that the Paralympic star could not have foreseen Reeva Steenkamp’s death when he fired four shots through a locked toilet door on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Reading the unanimous finding of the five-judge bench, Judge Leach described the case as a “human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions”.
Five key pieces of evidence
Check out several key pieces of evidence presented during the Oscar Pistorius trial.
“All is destroyed when he takes her life,” Judge Leach said.
Among Judge Leach’s extensive criticisms of Judge Masipa’s “fundamental” errors, he said that she “ignored” key evidence from a ballistics expert.
The legal reversal was a public humiliation for Judge Masipa, 68, who grew up in Soweto, an impoverished township outside Johannesburg.
She became an overnight sensation when she heard the Pistorius case, with many South Africans proud that a black woman from humble means would decide the fate of a rich white man.
Often described as an inspiration and a role model, Judge Masipa was a living example of how far the country had come since Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s first democratic president in 1994.
Judge Masipa became a lawyer late in life, and in 1998 became only the second black woman in the country to be appointed to the bench.
She became known for her careful, steely, decisions.
In one case, she sentenced a serial rapist dubbed the “Axeman” to over 250 years in prison.
Yet during the Pistorius trial, the soft-spoken Judge Masipa rarely interjected as state prosecutor Gerrie Nel sparred with Pistorius defence lawyer Barry Roux.
Her harshest words appeared to be reserved for anyone in court whose mobile phones interrupted proceedings.
Judge Masipa will re-sentence the Paralympic gold medallist at a later date.