Update: Judge dismisses all possible murder charges against Olympian Oscar Pistorius
- Credit: AP
The judge in Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial said that prosecutors have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the double-amputee Olympic athlete is guilty of premeditated murder.
Judge Thokozile Masipa also indicated he could not be found guilty of a lesser murder charge.
“Culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” the judge said but did not deliver any formal verdicts in the shooting death of Pistorius’ girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp before calling for a lunch break in the proceedings.
Judge Masipa was explaining her reasoning behind the upcoming verdicts in the case against the double-amputee Olympic athlete.
Ms Masipa said there were “just not enough facts” to support the finding of premeditated murder in Ms Steenkamp’s fatal shooting.
As the judge spoke, Pistorius wept quietly, his shoulders shaking as he sat on a wooden bench.
Ms Masipa told Pistorius he could remain seated on a wooden bench in the South African courtroom until she asked him to stand, and then proceeded to explain her assessment of the testimonies of some of the 37 witnesses who testified.
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Casting doubt on witness accounts of hearing a woman’s screams, Ms Masipa said “none of the witnesses had ever heard the accused cry or scream, let alone when he was anxious,” apparently acknowledging the possibility that the defence argument that Pistorius had been screaming in a high-pitched voice.
“That in itself poses a challenge,” Ms Masipa said of the fact that neighbours had never previously heard Pistorius scream and had no “model” to compare with the screams they heard on the night of Ms Steenkamp’s death.
At one point, Ms Masipa said: “I continue to explain why most witnesses got their facts wrong.”
Ms Masipa also said she was disregarding telephone text messages between the couple that had been entered as evidence - prosecutors had submitted text messages that showed tension between them in an attempt to prove that Pistorius had a motive to kill his girlfriend while the defence submitted messages that indicated mutual affection.
That evidence, the judge said, does not prove anything.
“Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable most of the time, while human beings are fickle,” she said.
Pistorius has said he mistakenly shot Ms Steenkamp through the closed door of a toilet cubicle, thinking there was an intruder in his home and pleaded not guilty to murder.
The prosecution alleges the athlete intentionally killed her after a loud quarrel, which was heard by neighbours.
A key part of the prosecution’s case was its assertion that Ms Steenkamp screamed during a late-night alleged fight with Pistorius before he killed her.
But Ms Masipa said some of those witnesses who testified to hearing a woman scream in the pre-dawn hours of February 14, 2013, were “genuinely mistaken in what they heard, as the chronology will show”.
That appeared to indicate that the defence had succeeded in raising doubts that Ms Steenkamp ever screamed.
The defence says the screaming was instead Pistorius, who was traumatised and desperately calling for help in a high-pitched voice after realising he had shot Ms Steenkamp in error.
Ms Masipa also cited testimony of an acoustics expert called by the defence, saying it cast “serious doubt” on whether witnesses who were hundreds of metres away in their homes - as some state witnesses were - could have differentiated between the screams of a man or a woman.
Earlier, Ms Masipa began by outlining in detail the four charges against the Olympic runner: Murder, two counts of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.
Pistorius sat looking straight ahead in the direction of the judge as she was explaining her upcoming decision from documents on a stand in front of her. Her two legal aides sat on either side.
Before the session began, Pistorius hugged his brother Carl, who was seated in a wheelchair because of injuries suffered in a recent car crash.
The parents of Ms Steenkamp, the 29-year-old model fatally shot by Pistorius, were also in the packed gallery. Other members of Pistorius’ family, including his father Henke, sat behind him.
If Pistorius is convicted on any charge, the case will likely be postponed until a later sentencing hearing.
There were many journalists at the courthouse, where the sensational trial has unfolded over the last six months.