Oscar Pistorius, found not guilty of murder Thursday, was declared guilty of culpable homicide Friday in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, disappointing prosecutors who wanted the para-Olympian, known as “Blade Runner,” guilty of the more serious charge.
A conviction of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, can bring a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Prosecutors said they will decide whether to appeal the ruling by Judge Thokozile Masipa after the sentencing phase on Oct. 13.
The judge said there was not enough evidence to support the contention that Pistorius knew Steenkamp was behind a locked bathroom door in his home when he shot through the door in the predawn hours of Valentine’s Day last year. Masipa said prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp.
Pistorius’ sentencing hearing will begin Oct. 13. Both sides will be able to call witnesses to argue ahead of the judge’s ruling on if, or for how long, Pistorius is sent to prison for negligently killing Steenkamp.
The killing of the beloved Steenkamp, a model and reality TV star, by a national sports hero stunned South Africans, and reactions to the verdict were mixed.
“Well, I think the verdict is shocking to say the least,” said Leonard Gray in Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp’s hometown. “I think there is clear evidence and indications that he committed murder in this case. … I feel sorry for Reeva Steenkamp’s family because they are not going to get any closure because this guy is basically getting away with murder, in my opinion.”
However, Shrina Padayachy, also in Port Elizabeth, called the judge’s verdict “fair and just because it’s the prosecution that must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and from what I gather and seen, they haven’t.”
Pistorius, 27, stood as the judge delivered the formal verdict on the multiple counts against him and said it was a unanimous verdict, meaning she and her two legal assessors agreed on the findings.
Unlike many other times during a trial that began in March, Pistorius showed no emotion as he stood in a dark suit with his hands crossed in front of him. The double-amputee Olympian was hugged by relatives when the judge ordered a recess soon after announcing her verdict. The judge later ruled that Pistorius be granted bail with the same terms as before.
Some legal analysts said they understood why Pistorius was found not guilty of premeditated murder but were surprised that the runner was not convicted of murder.
“We believe there is sufficient and credible evidence to secure a conviction” on a murder charge, said Nathi Mncube, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. He added that any decision to appeal the judge’s ruling would come after the case is “concluded” with sentencing.
The sentence for a culpable homicide conviction is at the judge’s discretion, and it can range from a suspended sentence and a fine to up to 15 years in prison.
The judge ruled that the athlete was guilty of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place when a friend’s pistol he was handling discharged under a table in a restaurant in Johannesburg in early 2013 — weeks before Steenkamp’s killing.
He was acquitted on two other weapons charges, including a count of firing a gun in public and a count of illegal possession of ammunition in the Pretoria home where he killed Steenkamp.
He said he mistook her for an intruder, while the prosecution said he killed her intentionally after an argument.