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Oscar Pistorius case appeal begins with question of murder

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BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal grilled Oscar Pistorius‘ attorney and a prosecutor on Tuesday as it weighed whether to convict him of murder for killing his girlfriend, uphold a lower court’s manslaughter conviction or order a retrial.

Prosecutors say the North Gauteng High Court erred in convicting Pistorius of the lesser charge, saying that he should have known that someone could be killed when the double-amputee Olympian fired four times into a locked toilet cubicle in his home. In the trial last year, prosecutors said Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp as she sought shelter in the toilet cubicle during an argument on Valentine’s Day 2013. The defense said Pistorius opened fire because he thought an intruder was about to burst out of the toilet.

One of the five appeals court judges noted during the session on Tuesday, broadcast across the country and around the world on live TV, that Pistorius could still be convicted of murder even if he didn’t think it was Steenkamp in the cubicle but knew someone was in there. Under the concept of dolus eventualis in South African law, a person can be convicted of murder if they foresaw the possibility of someone dying through their actions and went ahead anyway.

“If you look at the photographs, there’s room behind there for a toilet bowl and a person and just about nothing else,” Justice Lorimer Leach said to defense lawyer Barry Roux. “There’s nowhere to hide. It would be a miracle if you didn’t shoot someone.”

The five judges questioned prosecutor Gerrie Nel and Roux for about three hours in the court in Bloemfontein, a city in central South Africa that is the country’s judicial capital, with Steenkamp’s mother June Steenkamp and many journalists in attendance. The toughest and longest questioning was directed at Roux.

In a bad sign for Pistorius, who was not present, some of the Supreme Court judges suggested he could have known he would kill someone, whether his girlfriend or a possible intruder, by firing his pistol. Prosecutors argue that knowing his actions could be deadly, Pistorius should have been convicted of murder, and not the lesser offense of culpable homicide, which is similar to manslaughter.

“On the objective facts, the accused cannot escape the conviction of murder,” Nel said.

Responding to a barrage of questions from Leach, defense attorney Roux said there was a space behind a wall in the toilet cubicle that could have been safe from gunfire, but acknowledged that the “probable consequence” of Pistorius shooting through the door would have been injury or death. However, Roux said that did not contradict the defense argument that Pistorius, allegedly terrified that he was about to be attacked by an intruder, did not foresee that his actions would lead to someone’s death.

Pistorius, 28, was released from jail last month after serving a year in prison and was moved to house arrest at his uncle’s mansion. He was not required to attend the hearing.

While prosecutor Nel’s arguments to the panel were relatively brief, Roux, faced tough and lengthy questioning from the black-robed judges who sat on ornate wooden chairs with red backing in the wood-paneled courtroom.

A murder conviction would call for a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for Pistorius, the multiple Paralympic champion who became one of the world’s most famous athletes and the first amputee to run at the Olympics and the able-bodied world championships.

Asking the Supreme Court judges to upgrade Pistorius’ conviction to murder, Nel said that Judge Thokozile Masipa didn’t correctly apply the law at the culmination of Pistorius’ dramatic seven-month trial. Nel also said Masipa ignored or simply paid “lip service” to some circumstantial evidence against Pistorius.

After Tuesday’s session, the judges retired to consider their judgment. They said they would not be issuing their decision on Tuesday and there is no timeframe for when they will, although the court has said it would aim to release a decision by the end of this month.

The judges had already studied the tens of thousands of pages of court transcript from Pistorius’ trial. The panel of five judges, three men and two women, can reach a decision through a simple majority.

MORE PISTORIUS: Timeline since London Olympics

Mondo Duplantis, Elaine Thompson-Herah win to end Diamond League season

Mondo Duplantis
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Mondo Duplantis completed one of the greatest seasons in track and field history, under some of the most unusual circumstances for much of the year, by winning the last Diamond League meet of 2020 in Doha on Friday.

Duplantis outdueled pole vault rivals Sam Kendricks and Renaud Lavillenie in the Qatari capital, the site of his last defeat to Kendricks at the 2019 World Championships.

Duplantis, who was raised in Louisiana and competes for his mother’s birth country of Sweden, won on countback with a 5.82-meter clearance.

Back in February, the 20-year-old Duplantis twice raised the world record at indoor meets, ultimately to 6.18 meters. Eight days ago, Duplantis cleared the highest outdoor height in history, taking Ukrainian legend Sergey Bubka off the record books.

Full Doha results are here.

While the Diamond League is finished for 2020, one major event in the sport remains this year — the London Marathon on Oct. 4 at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

The two fastest men in history, Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, headline the fields on an adapted looped course.

In other events Friday, Kenyan Hellen Obiri surged to the lead after the bell in a 3000m that included five women who won 2019 World Championships medals across four different events. Obiri clocked 8:22.54 in the non-Olympic event, holding off world 10,000m bronze medalist Agnes Tirop and world 3000m steeplechase champion Beatrice Chepkoech.

Jamaican Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah won the 100m in 10.87 seconds, eight days after clocking the fastest time in the world this year of 10.85.

Thompson, who swept the 100m and 200m in Rio, has traded world-leading times with countrywoman and 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m champ Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce the last two seasons.

Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon made a rare 800m start, winning in a personal-best 1:57.68. The only woman to run faster over the last two years is double Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya, who is now barred from events from the 400m through the mile unless she takes testosterone-suppressing measures.

Aaron Mallett won the 110m hurdles in a personal-best 13.15 seconds, making him the third-fastest American over the last three years behind Grant Holloway and Daniel Roberts. The top three at Olympic Trials next June make the Tokyo team.

MORE: Cathy Freeman reflects on 20th anniversary

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2020 French Open women’s singles draw, bracket

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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