Oscar Pistorius wept in court as he was cleared of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – but must wait until tomorrow to find out if he is guilty of manslaughter.
Judge Thokozile Masipa told the court there was “no doubt” when Pistorius fired his gun “he acted unlawfully”, and will rule on Friday whether he is guilty of the lesser charge – known as culpable homicide in South Africa – over the 29-year-old model’s death.
At the end of Thursday’s hearing she found the track star acted “negligently”, “too hastily”, used “excessive force” and failed to take steps to avoid the resultant death. And she questioned why he called security after the shooting – but not before for help.
She stopped short of giving an actual verdict on manslaughter – which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison – and dramatically adjourned proceedings.
Sky’s Alex Crawford, who has been in the courtroom throughout the trial, said: “We are left sort of hanging – however, I feel she has given a fairly strong indication that she is heading towards culpable homicide because there appears to be no other option.” Earlier, Judge Masipa cleared the world-renowned athlete of both premeditated and murder without premeditation.
She told the trial “there are not enough facts” to support the prosecution case that the athlete intended to kill Ms Steenkamp.
The judge said the charge of premeditated murder relied on “circumstantial evidence” from the State.
“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,” she said. The verdicts came after she ripped into the athlete – the first amputee to run in both the Olympics and Paralympics – over his evidence, describing him as a “poor” witness who was initially composed, then “contradicted himself” under cross examination.
Pistorius was charged with one count of murder, two of illegally discharging a firearm – which is unrelated to the death of Ms Steenkamp – and one of illegally possessing ammunition. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The 27-year-old, his head down and shoulders shaking, was visibly distressed and sobbed in court as the judge recounted the events of Valentine’s Day last year. The prosecution had suggested he deliberately shot his girlfriend in a jealous rage and pushed for a verdict of premeditated murder which carried a sentence of 25 years in prison.
Pistorius insisted he shot Ms Steenkamp in a tragic accident, mistaking her for an intruder. South Africa has no jury system so Judge Masipa is deciding on the verdicts herself with the help of two assessors.
Proceedings kicked off with the judge outlining the facts of the case before the testimonies of each of the 37 witnesses who gave evidence at the six-month-long murder trial.
Ms Steenkamp’s parents – June and Barry Steenkamp – looked on and listened intently to Judge Masipa from a packed public gallery.