Oscar Pistorius was negligent in killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year, but there were not enough facts to support a murder charge, the trial judge said Thursday.
Judge Thokozile Masipa did not finish her verdict and ordered the trial resume at 3:30 a.m. ET on Friday.
“There are just not enough facts to support such a find,” Masipa said in dismissing premeditated murder after Pistorius shot four times through a locked bathroom door at what he thought was an intruder but turned out to be Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013. “Clearly, he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door.”
Masipa left open the possibility for Pistorius to be convicted of a lesser charge — culpable homicide (or negligent killing), which would include a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
“Did the accused fail to take steps which he should reasonably have taken to guard against the consequence?” Masipa said. “The answer is yes. He failed to take any step to avoid resultant death. I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force. In the circumstances, it is clear that his conduct was negligent.”
Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, sat alone on the same wooden bench he has occupied for most of the trial on Thursday. He closed his eyes, shook his shoulders and wept as Masipa said there weren’t enough facts to support premeditated murder. A premeditated murder charge would carry a sentence of up to life in prison.
Masipa said Pistorius’ lawyers correctly argued the runner believed he was shooting at an intruder rather than Steenkamp.
Masipa believed Pistorius’ verson of events, saying it was highly improbable he would have made up a story so quickly, having told the first people he saw after the shooting.
Masipa also said Pistorius stayed consistent with his version, but when it came to the law, it didn’t matter who was behind the door.
“The fact the person behind the door turned out to be the deceased and not an intruder is irrelevant,” Masipa said. “There is no doubt that when the accused fired shots through the toilet door, he acted unlawfully.”
The prosecution’s case was that Pistorius shot Steenkamp after an argument. Masipa disagreed.
Masipa added that Pistorius was “a very poor witness” in his own defense in April. She said Steenkamp died under “very peculiar circumstances.”
There is no jury system in South Africa. The 66-year-old judge and her two assessors took the last month to decide Pistorius’ fate.
The murder trial, initially slated for March 3-20, has taken 42 days of court time scattered among several breaks over six months.