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Pistorius: How the verdict is being delivered

September 11, 2014

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Guilty or not guilty? The verdict in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is not being delivered so simply.

Judge Thokozile Masipa took hours to read out and explain parts of her judgment on Thursday and is still not finished. Her final verdict on whether Pistorius intentionally killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, or if he is guilty on a lesser charge of causing her death through negligence, is now expected on Friday.

Judge Masipa has so far ruled out a conviction on premeditated murder and murder without pre-planning after recounting and analyzing the evidence given by many of the nearly 40 witnesses in a case lasting six months.

However, Masipa said Pistorius was negligent in Steenkamp’s killing. She has yet to announce a formal judgment on any charge.

If there are any convictions on the charges Pistorius now appears vulnerable to — culpable homicide or negligent killing, and three unrelated firearm charges — sentences will only be decided later.



Because South Africa has no trial by jury, Judge Masipa must show exactly why she and her two legal assessors reached their decision on each count.

The judge has given a summary of the testimony of many of the 37 trial witnesses, including Pistorius himself. Masipa also gave her assessment of the witnesses and what was accepted or rejected from their testimony. Then, she gave a summary of her own findings based on how she interpreted the evidence and how it ties in with the law. On Friday, she will likely formally pronounce Pistorius guilty or not guilty on the main charge of murder. If Pistorius is acquitted of murder — of intentionally killing Steenkamp — as Masipa appeared to indicate on Thursday, he will then automatically be judged on a culpable homicide charge. Pistorius also faces two charges of unlawfully shooting a gun in public in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.



Murder: The judge said Pistorius couldn’t be found guilty of premeditated murder or a lesser murder charge because she found he didn’t intend to kill Steenkamp. A formal acquittal on both degrees of murder appears likely.

Culpable homicide: It’s now likely that Pistorius will be convicted of culpable homicide after Masipa said he acted negligently in killing Steenkamp by firing four shots through a toilet cubicle door. Even though culpable homicide isn’t on the indictment, Pistorius admitted causing Steenkamp’s death and must be judged on whether he was negligent, even if he didn’t intend to kill her.

Acquitted: A complete acquittal in Steenkamp’s killing now is unlikely after the judge said Pistorius “acted too hastily and with excessive force,” suggesting he still has some criminal responsibility in her killing.



If convicted on any charge, Pistorius would likely remain free on bail until sentencing because he has been out on bail during the trial, legal expert Marius du Toit said. However, that’s not guaranteed and the judge could order Pistorius be taken into custody. A defendant’s bail expires on conviction, meaning Masipa must make a new ruling on bail if Pistorius is convicted.



If there is any conviction, prosecutors and Pistorius’ defense lawyers will have the chance to present witnesses in a separate sentencing hearing before Masipa decides if and how long Pistorius goes to prison. In what amounts to a second trial, prosecutors could call members of Steenkamp’s family, maybe her mother and father, to testify for sentencing. Defense lawyers might call psychiatrists to argue for a lighter sentence.

Premeditated murder calls for a life sentence in prison with a minimum of 25 years before the chance of parole in South Africa, which does not have the death penalty. Murder without pre-planning has a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Culpable homicide has five years if a gun is used, but this can be increased or decreased depending on circumstances and has a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. For example, the fact that Pistorius fired multiple times into a small space and didn’t fire a warning shot first could count against him.

The three unrelated firearm charges Pistorius faces usually carry fines or suspended sentences on conviction.



Du Toit said an appeal is “extremely likely” from Pistorius if he is given any jail time. An appeal can only happen after sentencing. Pistorius could appeal against a conviction, against a sentence, or against both. The possibility is one of the reasons why Judge Masipa must be so thorough in the verdict.