Oscar Pistorius found guilty of murder

  • By James Nadel

South Africa’s Supreme Court has overruled Pistorius’ previous conviction and found him guilty of murder

The world’s first Paralympian to compete among able bodied athletes at the Olympics, Oscar Pistorius has had his previous conviction for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp scaled up to murder from culpable homicide by South Africa’s top appeals court.

Blade Runner” Pistorius could now be sent back to jail for at least 15 years for shooting Steenkamp dead on Valentine’s Day 2013. Although courts in South Africa do allow for Judge’s discretion and consideration for time served, the maximum amount of time permitted under house arrest is 5 years, meaning that Pistorius will most certainly be heading back to prison.

The athlete is expected to be sentenced for the new murder conviction by a lower court at a date still to be determined. At 29 years old, even with time served and discretionary leniency taken into account, Pistorius’ hopes of one day returning as a professional athlete are now most certainly over if they weren’t before.

Last year a judge gave Pistorius a five-year jail sentence for “culpable homicide” of Steenkamp, but prosecutors argued that he should be convicted of murder for firing four shots through a locked toilet door in a case that attracted interest around the world and continues to fascinate and divide South Africa.

Pistorius left jail on parole in October and is meant to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

“This is a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions” Judge Eric Leach said as he started reading the ruling.

State prosecutors who lodged the appeal say Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp and that she fled to a toilet during a row. Pistorius denies deliberately killing Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder at his home.

At the original trial in September last year, Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the state had failed to prove “dolus eventualis” a legal concept that centres on a person being held responsible for intending the foreseeable consequences of their actions, or foreseeing the possible outcome but continuing regardless.

“In these circumstances, the accused must have foreseen and, therefore, did foresee that whoever was behind the toilet door might die but reconciled himself to that even occurring and gambled with that person’s life” said Judge Leach.

“The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt.”

The new conviction centres on the fact that whether or not Pistorius thought he was shooting at his girlfriend or an intruder, he knew or aught to have known that by shooting multiple shots through the door there was a strong chance of causing death. He knew there was somebody on the other side of the door, their identity irrelevant to the Supreme Court, yet continued to fire multiple shots through the door. It was seen as unrealistic to shoot at somebody several times and not foresee the potential to cause death, thus establishing dolus eventualis.


 

J.Nadel@theinternational.org.uk