Oscar Pistorius case: Athlete cleared of all murder charges

Verdict on culpable homocide still to come as judge says accused was ‘negligent’ in shooting Steenkamp

A South African judge cleared Oscar Pistorius of all murder charges today, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the Olympic and Paralympic track star intended to kill his girlfriend or an imagined intruder on Valentine's Day last year.

A verdict on the less serious charge of culpable homicide is still to come.

Although judge Thokozile Masipa described the 27-year-old as a "very poor" and "evasive" witness, she said this did not mean the track star was necessarily guilty in a case she said was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.

"The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder," Ms Masipa told the Pretoria High Court. "There are just not enough facts to support such a finding."


She then proceeded to absolveMr Pistorius, who said he shot model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp in the mistaken belief she was an intruder hiding in a toilet cubicle, of the lesser murder charge of dolus eventualis.

“Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door - let alone the deceased - as he thought she was in the bedroom,” she told the packed courtroom.

As she delivered her decision, Mr Pistorius, who would have faced at least 25 years behind bars for premeditated murder, sat sobbing in the dock, tears streaming down his cheeks.


However Ms Masipa said he was “negligent” when he shot dead his girlfriend last year. Ms Masipa, who adjourned the reading of her verdict until Fridaymorning , also said she was “not persuaded” that a reasonable person with Mr Pistorius’ abilities would have fired the shots that killed Steenkamp.

Although he has been cleared of the two murder charges, he could still be convicted of culpable homicide for the negligent or reckless killing of Steenkamp, who was hit by four 9mm rounds Pistorius fired through the toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home.

Culpable homicide still carries up to 15 years in jail. Alternatively the double-amputee could be acquitted, allowing him to leave the court and potentially resume his career as one of the biggest names in world athletics.

Bowed head

As the judge began her methodical review of the 41-day trial and the charges - which also include three unrelated firearms offences - a pained and forlorn Pistorius bowed his head in the dock.

Ms Masipa, only the second black woman to rise to the bench in South Africa, has remained impassive throughout the often dramatic and gruesome court proceedings, seemingly impervious to the global interest in the case.

In one early blow to Mr Pistorius, Ms Masipa said defence allegations of police contamination of the crime scene “paled into insignificance”.

However, as she drew up a detailed timeline of the shooting on Valentine’s Day last year, she questioned the reliability of state witnesses, including that of a neighbour who testified to hearing screams of a woman.

She also rejected a mass of instant messaging evidence presented by both prosecution and defence to suggest, respectively, that the couple‘s relationship was on the rocks or loving and strong.

“Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable most of the time, while human beings are fickle,” she said. “None of the evidence of a loving relationship, or a relationship turned sour, can assist this court.” Earlier, Ms Masipa began by outlining in detail the four charges against the Olympic runner: murder, two counts of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.

Mr Pistorius sat looking straight ahead in the direction of the judge as she was explaining her upcoming decision from documents on a stand in front of her. Her two legal aides sat on either side.

Before the session began, Mr Pistorius hugged his brother Carl, who was seated in a wheelchair because of injuries suffered in a recent car crash.

Steenkamp’s parents were also in the packed gallery.

Other members of Mr Pistorius’s family, including his father Henke, sat behind him. If he is convicted on any charge, the case will likely be postponed until a later sentencing hearing.