Oscar Pistorius acquitted of Reeva Steenkamp's murder - will he get culpable homicide verdict?

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - SEPTEMBER 11, 2014

After acquitting Oscar Pistorius of intentionally murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, speculation is now that High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa will hand down a culpable homicide verdict.

“Culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” the judge said, but did not deliver any formal verdict calling for a lunch break in the proceedings after Pistorius started showing signs of extreme emotion.

Pistorius now faces a culpable homicide or negligent killing charge even though it isn't on the indictment. This charge carries a maximum of 15 years, possibly between seven and 10 years, but there is the possibility of a suspended sentence.

He can still be acquitted of both murder and culpable homicide if the judge finds he had no intention to kill and also acted reasonably or in self-defence.

Early on, Judge Masipa said that the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius is guilty of pre-meditated murder

"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.

"There are just not enough facts to support such a finding."

As Pistorius wept, Judge Masipa ruled that the evidence with regard to the murder charge was "purely circumstantial". 

However, the Judge also found that Pistorius was a "very poor witness" and contradicted himself on the stand. 

"During his evidence, he seemed composed and logical...[but] under cross examination he lost his composure... [and it seemed] the accused was suffering by enormous emotional stress and was
traumatised by reliving the incident," she said.

"The accused was, amongst other things, an evasive witness."

She questioned why four shots were fired instead of one, and said Pistorius was "clearly not candid" with the court. 

Masipa said it was understandable that a person with a disability such as Pistorius's would feel vulnerable when threatened by danger. 

"This court is satisfied that at the relevant time, the accused could distinguish between right and wrong," she said.

"The essence of accused's defence was that he had no intention to shoot at anyone... let alone the deceased."