Olympian Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide for killing his girlfriend in his South African home last year. The judge, Thokozile Masipa, who presided for the case (there are no jury trials in South Africa) said, "Evidential material before this court ... shows that the accused acted negligently when he fired into the toilet door, knowing there was someone behind the door."
Pistorius, who was born without fibula bones but overcame that to become a top sprinter with his carbon blades, had claimed he thought he heard an intruder in his home in Pretoria. But it was actually just his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the bathroom.
He said last year, "She wanted to stay at home. I was watching TV. My legs were off. She was doing yoga. At the end of the evening we got into bed. I'm acutely aware of people gaining entries to homes to commit crime, I've received death threats. I sleep with my 9mm under my bed. I woke up to close the sliding door and heard a noise in the bathroom.... Because I did not have my legs on I felt vulnerable. I fired shots through the bathroom door and told Reeva to call police. I walked back to the bed and realised Reeva was not in bed. It then it dawned on me it could be her in there."
He fired into the bathroom multiple times, hitting Steenkamp, a 30-year-old model and law school graduate, and when he finally opened the door and found Steenkamp, Pistorius said he tried to save her and called paramedics.
Prosecutors had claimed that Pistorius actually put on his protheses and went to shoot Steenkamp, who had locked herself in the bathroom, "If I arm myself, walk a distance and murder a person, that is premeditated. The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill." However, the judge found that unconvincing. From the NY Times:
Judge Masipa asked Mr. Pistorius, 27, to stand in the wooden dock in the North Gauteng High Court here in the South African capital as she pronounced her verdict. The athlete, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie, looked straight ahead, his hands crossed in front of him, seemingly impassive after several instances during the trial when he wept, wailed and retched.
In the hushed courtroom, with members of both the Steenkamp and the Pistorius families in attendance, the judge told Mr. Pistorius that he had acted negligently when he opened fire.
The prosecution, she said, had failed to bring “strong circumstantial evidence” to support its case of murder, while Mr. Pistorius’s version of events “could reasonably be true.”
After the shooting, Mr. Pistorius had been prompt in calling for help, the judge said. He prayed to God and sought to resuscitate Ms. Steenkamp, a model and law-school graduate, and his behavior, the judge said, “was inconsistent” with that of someone who wanted to commit murder.
Moreover, she said, “it cannot be said that the accused did not entertain a genuine belief that there was an intruder in the house.” He could thus not be found guilty on murder charges, Judge Masipa said.
But, she said, Mr. Pistorius had been negligent when he opened fire, knowing that somebody might be inside the toilet cubicle.
“A reasonable person with a similar disability would have foreseen the possibility that the person behind the door” would have been killed, the judge said.
Judge Masipa allowed Pistorius free on bail until sentencing next month. He could face up to 15 years in prison. An appeal may be pursued after the sentencing.
His family released a statement,"It is a big burden off our shoulders and Oscar. We always knew the facts of the matter. We never had any doubt in Oscar's version of this tragic incident... We as a family remain deeply affected by the devastating tragedy. It won't bring Reeva back but our hearts still go out for her family and friends."