Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murder but can still be found guilty of culpable homicide, Judge Thokozile Masipa said in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.
“The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder dolus eventualis [legal intent]… that however is not the end of the matter as culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” she said, just before adjourning for an early lunch.
Pistorius sat in the dock weeping, shacking and clenching his jaw as Masipa read through her judgment.
“The State has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder. There are just not enough facts to support such a finding.”
Masipa said evidence for premeditated murder was “purely circumstantial”.
Pistorius’s sobs could be heard in the court following Masipa’s finding which prompted her to take an early lunch break. Just after the lunch adjournment, Pistorius heaved a sigh of relief and continued sitting for a few minutes composing himself, before leaving Court room GD.
The athlete’s family, among them his uncle Arnold, aunt Lois, sister Aimee and father Henke, were in court. His brother Carl Pistorius arrived in a wheelchair and both legs in casts. He was injured in a car accident last month.
Pistorius, 27, said he thought an intruder was behind the door of the toilet in his Pretoria home when he shot through it. He fired four times, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013. The State argued the murder was premeditated. Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and to three firearm-related charges.
Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, as well as her cousin Kim Martins were in court to hear the judgment on Thursday. Steenkamp’s friends the Myers family, witness Darren Fresco and former soccer player Marc Batchelor were also in court.
Earlier, Masipa said Pistorius was a “very poor witness” and contradicted himself on the stand. She described him as an evasive witness and said he failed to listen to questions thinking of the impact of his answers.
Masipa rejected Pistorius’s defence that this was because he was under emotional stress, traumatised, and medicated. She took meticulous care as she went through the sequence of events recalled by witnesses.
Masipa also dealt with whether Pistorius’s version could reasonably and possibly be true. She said it was important to recap the State’s version and whether it supported the premeditated theory with the fact that Steenkamp had her cellphone with her in the locked toilet. She said there could have been a number of reasons the model had her cellphone with her to the locked toilet.
On the food contents in Steenkamp’s stomach, Masipa said the court could not rely on gastric emptying because it was not “an exact science” and the evidence was inconclusive. Before starting her judgment Masipa said she would not give an exhaustive “rehash” of evidence.
While giving a summary of some of Pistorius’s neighbours testimony and a chronology of events Masipa rejected the evidence given by two neighbours, Michelle Burger and her husband Charl Johnson, who live in Silver Stream estate, next to Pistorius’s Silver Woods Country Estate.
Although Masipa rejected their evidence she said she did not think they were “dishonest”. The judge said it was unwise to rely on evidence witnesses who gave evidence on what they heard the morning Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Masipa also said the WhatsApp messages sent between Pistorius and Steenkamp, which were read out in court, could not help determine if Pistorius wanted to kill Steenkamp. SAPA