Oscar: the verdict is in

Published Sep 12, 2014


Pretoria - After six months of gruelling court proceedings, Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide and negligent handling of a firearm.

Pistorius was charged with the murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, two counts of negligently handling a firearm and a final count of possession of illegal ammunition.

On Thursday, Judge Thokosile Masipa indicated that Pistorius would not be found guilty of murder with direct intent or common murder (dolus eventualis). She ruled on Friday morning that the court's unanimous decision was that Pistorius was negligent for firing on Steenkamp. Thus, he was found guilty of culpable homicide.

Pistorius claimed he thought he was firing on an intruder who he believed was breaking into his home, but that he only realised after firing that he had accidentally fired on Steenkamp.

Regarding the two other incidents where Pistorius misused his firearms, once firing out of a moving car's sunroof and the other firing inside a crowded restaurant, Judge Masipa found Pistorius innocent of the former and guilty of negligence on the latter.

The judge insisted that, during the incident at the restaurant, Pistorius had shown a reckless disregard for the safety of the patrons, as he had chosen to handle a firearm in a public space.

Meanwhile, Pistorius's supposed possession of illegal ammunition was dismissed entirely by Judge Masipa, who said the State had failed to prove Pistorius had any intention to keep it.

On the second count Pistorius faced, which referred to an incident where Pistorius allegedly shot a bullet through an open sunroof of a car in 2012, Judge Masipa said the State had called two witnesses, including Pistorius's ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor and former friend, Darren Fresco.

The trio had been driving from the Vaal on the day of the incident, and were pulled over by metro police. Pistorius allegedly had an altercation with the officer and after leaving from the scene, Pistorius shot his gun through the sunroof of the car in which they drove off.

Taylor implied in her testimony that Fresco had not been too bothered by the incident, but Fresco denied this was the case saying he was very disturbed.

Pistorius said it was the officer who was irritated and aggressive, and that the shooting out of the sunroof never occurred.

Judge Masipa said the two versions presented by Taylor and Fresco varied significantly, and the defence argued this meant their evidence was unreliable.

She ruled that Fresco was not an impressive witness, and proved to be dishonest, saying Pistorius had been speeding prior to being pulled over and took a photo of the speedometer. Judge Masipa said this was most likely a lie, but that such lies can't entirely taint the rest of Fresco's evidence.

However, Fresco was unable at first to point out the location of the incident to investigators.

She then moved on to Taylor's evidence, where the ex-girlfriend said the couple had broken up because of Pistorius' infidelity.

Judge Masipa said this meant that Taylor's evidence had to be taken with some degree of caution, however, in some aspects “had a ring of truth”.

She said, however, the evidence placed before the court fell short of proving such a criminal action and that the State had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius was guilty of such a crime.

She then moved onto the third charge, which involved Pistorius allegedly discharging a firearm in the Melrose Arch Tashas restaurant in 2013.

Pistorius was allegedly passed a firearm under the table after being told it was “one up” (loaded), but a shot went off, damaging the restaurant floor and lightly injuring one of Pistorius's friends, Kevin Lerena.

State witnesses claimed that Pistorius asked Fresco to take the blame to avoid negative media publicity over the incident. Fresco then told the restaurant's owners that his gun had fallen out of his pocket and gone off.

Judge Masipa said that owners of the restaurant had testified that the restaurant was full of people at the time of the shooting.

Pistorius claimed during his testimony he did not know the firearm was loaded when it was being passed. He also said he'd reprimanded Fresco for handing him a loaded gun.

Judge Masipa said it did not matter what caused the gun to fire, but what was relevant was the accused asked for a firearm in a restaurant full of patrons. She said while Pistorius had not intentionally pulled the trigger, this did not absolve him of the charge of negligently handling a firearm.

Judge Masipa ruled that Lerena had been a good, reliable witness with no bias against the accused, and thus the court could also accept Fresco's version of events. She said it was not acceptable to ask to handle a firearm in a public space.

She then made it to the fourth and final count, where Pistorius was allegedly found in possession of illegal ammunition at his home in Pretoria.

Pistorius told the court he did not have the licence to possess this ammunition, but denied the charge.

He also told investigators it belonged to his father, Henke, and he was holding it for him.

Judge Masipa said the State had to prove that the accused had the necessary intention to possess a firearm or ammunition for a conviction.

She said, however, that if the intention was to return it to it's owner, it would be an aberration to convict him on the basis that he intended to keep it.

Judge Masipa said the State had insisted that Henke Pistorius had refused to make a statement on whether the ammunition belonged to him, but that this did not help the State. She said the State had failed to prove that the accused had intention to own the ammunition.

In her conclusion, Judge Masipa said that regarding Steenkamp's shooting, Pistorius had believed an intruder was behind the toilet door. She said the unreliability of some State witnesses and Pistorius's distraught conduct after the incident had strengthened Pistorius' version of events. The athlete had claimed that he fired on the perceived intruder because he was frightened for his life, not realising that Steenkamp was inside his home.

She once again said that Pistorius could not be found guilty of pre-meditated murder (dolus directus) or dolus eventualis (foreseeing Steenkamp could be killed because of his actions).

Judge Masipa said, however, that the accused fired negligently at the toilet door, and a reasonable person with a similar disability would have realised the possibility that someone could have been killed.

During a short break in proceedings after the verdict, Pistorius's sister Aimee rushed to her brother in the dock.

They sat together, leaning on each other and quietly talking.

Meanwhile, some of the Steenkamp family cried as the family lawyer spoke to them about the legalities behind the verdict.

However, Steenkamp's mother, June's emotional state was unclear, displaying neither tears nor smiles.

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The Star

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