PRETORIA (dpa) – South African judge Thokozile Masipa on Friday found athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, one day after clearing him of murder charges.
A verdict of manslaughter – known as culpable homicide in South Africa – could land Pistorius in prison for several years. He could also get a suspended sentence, depending on the discretion of the judge.
It was expected to take several weeks for the judge to issue the sentence, with a prison term of between five and 10 years deemed likely.
Masipa acquitted Pistorius of two gun-related charges unrelated to the killing – firing a gun through the sunroof of a car and illegally storing ammunition belonging to his father.
However, the judge found Pistorius guilty of illegally discharging a gun in a restaurant, which could carry an additional jail term or a fine.
The double-amputee Olympic sprinter was on trial from March 3 to August 8, charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, whom he shot through a toilet door in his Pretoria home on February 14, 2013.
The 27-year-old says he heard the bathroom window open at night and thought an intruder had entered.
On hearing the verdict, Steenkamp’s mother June comforted weeping family members, and was heard telling them, “You must not cry.” After standing up to hear the verdict, Pistorius sat quietly with his sister Aimee.
Gerrie Nel, a lawyer for the prosecution, glanced apologetically at Reeva Steenkamp’s father Barry, who left the court with slumped shoulders.
During her announcement of the verdict, Masipa said there was no reason to believe Pistorius “didn’t really entertain the belief that there was an intruder.”
His behaviour after the killing – seeking help, trying to resuscitate Steenkamp and praying to God to save her life – was “inconsistent with the conduct of someone who had the intention to commit murder,” the judge argued.
But even if Pistorius did not mean to kill anyone, he “acted negligently” and unreasonably, having known there was someone in the toilet with little room for manoeuvre when he fired the shots, the judge said.
The judge’s decision to clear Pistorius of murder charges sparked widespread criticism Thursday, with legal experts arguing the killing must have been intentional since the athlete grabbed a gun, walked towards the bathroom and fired four times through the door.
Masipa could take several weeks before announcing a sentence, at which point the defence and prosecution can argue for a milder or stronger sentence, calling new witnesses if necessary. Law professor James Grant said he expected Pistorius to get “at least some” jail time.
Pistorius, whose legs were amputated at the knee at the age of 11 months because of a congenital abnormality, became the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the 2012 London Olympics.