Oscar Pistorius guilty of negligent killing, one gun charge

Posted at 5:35 AM, Sep 12, 2014

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — A judge has found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, the South African term for unintentionally — but unlawfully — killing a person. It’s akin to negligent killing.

Friday’s verdict comes a day after Judge Thokozile Masipa cleared Pistorius of murder in the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

His sentencing starts on October 13, the judge said after granting him bail.

The customary maximum prison sentence for culpable homicide is 15 years, but a typical sentence is five to eight years, said Kelly Phelps, a CNN legal analyst.

Sentencing could be weeks away and will come after more legal argument.

The verdict also dealt with three other charges, all weapons-related.

He was found not guilty of two — a car sunroof shooting incident and illegal possession of ammunition found at his house.

The judge found Pistorius guilty of the third: a charge involving a shooting at a restaurant. The maximum penalty for that is five years behind bars. But he could get a lesser sentence, such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.

The question of bail

The next step in Friday’s proceedings is the question of bail: Should Pistorius be allowed to remain free on bail, now that he has been convicted of two crimes?

Pistorius sold his house to pay legal bills. Having no assets could count against him getting bail.

Weapons charges

In the shooting from the car’s sunroof, Masipa said the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. She said she didn’t find the state’s witnesses persuasive, saying their versions of events differed too much.

In the second charge, Pistorius was found not guilty of having illegal ammunition at his house. Masipa said the state failed to introduce evidence that proved he intended to possess the ammunition. Pistorius had said he was storing it in a safe for his father.

In the restaurant shooting, she said the state had proved its case. Pistorius, she said, was trained in the use of guns and should not have asked for the gun at the restaurant, let alone handled it.

Letting the world know

Masipa, who has presided impassively for months over the high-profile trial, finally let the world know what she has been thinking on the first day of reading her verdict Thursday.

Pistorius did not intend to kill his girlfriend, she said, accepting his defense that he thought someone had broken into his house and that he believed he was defending himself.

Pistorius, 27, has always admitted firing the bullets that killed his girlfriend Steenkamp, a 29-year-old cover model about to turn reality TV star. He pleaded not guilty to murdering her in his home on Valentine’s Day last year, saying the killing was a tragic mistake.

But in grabbing his gun and heading toward the supposed threat, Pistorius “acted too hastily and used excessive force,” Masipa ruled Thursday.

“His conduct was negligent” and not what a reasonable man would do in the circumstances — not even a disabled one, she said before adjourning for the day.

Defense arguments that his upbringing “in a crime-riddled environment and in a home where the mother was paranoid and always carried a firearm” might explain his conduct that night, but “it does not excuse the conduct,” Masipa said.

“The accused had reasonable time to reflect, to think and to conduct himself reasonably,” she said. “I am not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused’s disabilities in the same circumstances would have fired four shots into that small toilet cubicle.”

There is no minimum sentence for culpable homicide in South African law, so it will be up to the judge to decide. Sentencing takes place in a separate phase of the trial that can come weeks after the verdict.

Not guilty of murder

Masipa on Thursday found Pistorius not guilty of murder, premeditated or otherwise.

She said the prosecution had failed to prove its case that Pistorius and Steenkamp argued on the night of the killing, and that the Olympic track star then shot her in a rage.

Masipa was not persuaded by the testimony of neighbors who said they heard shouting, screaming and shots.

The neighbors’ stories do not match the timings on phone records the night of the killing, she concluded, saying: “Technology is more reliable than human perception and human memory.”

She also said she believes that media coverage contaminated testimonies and that state witnesses were in and out of sleep the night of the killing.

She knocked down other key aspects of the state’s case: the fact that Steenkamp took her phone and locked herself in the bathroom allegedly out of fear for her safety, phone messages between the couple that showed some rocky patches, and stomach contents that might suggest the victim ate later than Pistorius said.

Pistorius could be seen crying at times during the reading of the lengthy verdict. The Olympian’s trial started six months ago, transfixing the world with graphic details of how he fatally shot Steenkamp.

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