For Barry Steenkamp it is finally “over”, but for Oscar Pistorius, it is probably the beginning of many years behind bars.
It is now official: The once beloved Paralympian gold medalist is guilty of murder for firing four shots into a toilet cubicle, killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp behind a locked door.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Thursday ruled in favour of the State, setting aside a 2014 culpable homicide conviction by a high court.
The unanimous judgment was clear – Pistorius gambled with the life of the person behind the toilet door by firing four shots with a heavy calibre firearm into a small space.
It referred the matter back to the trial court to deal with sentencing.
The SCA’s ruling comes almost three years after Pistorius shot Reeva dead, later stating he mistook her for an intruder. He fired four shots into the bathroom door of his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
The two met in November 2012.
“Romance quickly blossomed and they became intimate. As so often happens with romantic relationships, especially in their youthful stages, theirs was attended by petty conflict and tensions… but despite these hiccups, the deceased at times slept over at the accused’s home,” Justice Eric Leach said on Thursday.
“She did so on the night of 13 February 2013. In the early hours of the following morning, screams, gunshots, loud noises and cries for help were heard emanating from the accused’s house.”
‘Well trained in the use of firearms’
The SCA described the case as a “human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions”.
After a grueling trial in the High Court in Pretoria, Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide and not murder.
The SCA found that Masipa had made a number of errors in law. But it said that its ruling should not be seen “as an adverse comment upon her competence and ability”.
It ruled in favour of the Director of Public Prosecutions on two questions of law.
Firstly, it found the court incorrectly applied the principles of dolus eventualis (perpetrators foreseeing the risk of death occurring, but nevertheless proceeds with the act).
Leach, reading out the judgment to a packed courtroom, said Pistorius was “well trained in the use of firearms” and held his weapon “at the ready in order to shoot”.
Even though he had a physical disability and suffered from general anxiety disorder, the SCA did not accept the view that he may have fired without thinking of the consequences of his actions.
Leach said it was common sense that the possibility of death existed as a result of the shooting.
Pistorius never offered an acceptable explanation for firing the shots, he said.
“In these circumstances, I have no doubt that in firing the fatal shots the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life.”
‘Nowhere for the deceased to hide’
The SCA also found there was “an absence of the appreciation of material evidence”.
Leach said the evidence of the police’s ballistics expert, Chris Mangena, was of “particular importance”, but was “seemingly ignored” by the trial court.
Mangena’s testimony highlighted the nature of the deadly firearm, the bullets’ path and the tiny space of the toilet cubicle.
“There had effectively been nowhere for the deceased to hide,” said Leach.
After the verdict was handed down on Thursday, Reeva’s mother June sobbed as she left the court in Bloemfontein.
She hugged members of the ANC Women’s League in the street.
Mangaung women’s league members welcomed the verdict and implored South African men not to kill women.
Speaking from Reeva’s hometown of Port Elizabeth, her father Barry said they could now get on with their lives. He wished the same for the Pistorius family.
“I’ve been watching since 07:00 this morning,” he said. “If you took note of what I’ve said right from the beginning, it’s not over yet, it’s not over yet… it’s over now.”
Pistorius’s family noted the verdict, but said they would not be commenting at this stage. Pistorius has 14 days to decide if he wants to appeal to the Constitutional Court.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) welcomed the ruling.
“It affirms our contention that the trial court judge misdirected herself in her interpretation in the application of the law,” spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku told News24.
Remains under correctional supervision
The former Paralympian is currently under correctional supervision at his uncle’s Pretoria home.
He was released from prison on October 19 after serving one-sixth of his five-year sentence, and recently reported to a nearby police station for community service as part of his sentence.
The High Court in Pretoria will now have to decide on an appropriate sentence after listening to arguments from both sides. No date had yet been announced for sentencing arguments. For now, he remains under correctional supervision.
Leach said the time Pistorius had served for the incorrect conviction would “obviously” be taken into account.
Marius du Toit, a defence lawyer and former prosecutor, told News24 that Pistorius would have to provide substantial and compelling reasons to deviate from the minimum 15-year jail term for murder.
He said it was possible that Pistorius would be able to provide a compelling reason.
“He was sentenced to five years [for the culpable homicide]. I think he is capable of maybe bringing it [the murder sentence] down to a 10 year sentence, suspended for five years.”
Du Toit said the law had prevailed in the SCA judgment, and it was good to have the SCA clarify the principles of dolus eventualis.
Legal analyst Pierre de Vos tweeted: “The SCA judgment is also just. One cannot justify anyone killing a person without any proof that he/she poses a real threat to you or others.” News24