Pistorius cleared of murder

Oscar Pistoriusoutside the high court in Pretoria, South Africa
Oscar Pistoriusoutside the high court in Pretoria, South Africa
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Oscar Pistorius will have to wait until tomorrow to learn if he is to be fully cleared over the death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old athlete sobbed after he was found not guilty of pre-meditated murder and the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

But judge Thokozile Masipa said the double-amputee would have to wait until tomorrow to discover if he will be found guilty of manslaughter.

She described his conduct in the moments before his model girlfriend died as “negligent”.

She told the court in Pretoria that Pistorius acted “hastily” with “too much force” as he fired four bullets through his toilet door in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 2013.

The athlete told police he mistook his girlfriend for burglars.

The athlete, dubbed Blade Runner due to his prosthetic limbs, has always admitted he shot law graduate-turned-model Ms Steenkamp.

He wept in court earlier as he was acquitted of the more serious murder charges, the judge pausing to adjourn for a break before returning to deliver her verdict on the charge of culpable homicide - the UK equivalent of manslaughter.

But Pistorius was also described by the judge as a “very poor witness”, who “lost his composure” during cross-examination.

Continuing to deliver her verdict this afternoon, judge Masipa said: “ There were other means available to you to deal with threats to his life.

“All the accused had to do was pick up his cell phone and ring security, or run to the balcony and call for help.

“Many people in this country have experienced crime or the effects thereof, directly or indirectly at some time or another.

“Many have been victims of violent crime but have not resorted to sleeping with firearms under their pillows.

“If the accused, for example, had awoken in the middle of the night and in darkness seen a silhouette by his bed and in a panic shot at that figure, only to find it was the deceased, his conduct would have been understandable and perhaps excusable.

“In such a situation he would not have been expected to call security first as he would be faced with a real emergency.”

She added: “The accused had reasonable time to think, reflect and conduct himself.

“I’m not persuaded that a reasonable person with the same disability would have fired the four shots.

“The accused knew there was a person behind the toilet door, he chose to use a firearm.

“Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the accused have foreseen the possibility that if he fired four shots whoever was behind the toilet might be struck and die as a result?

“Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the accused have guarded against that possibility? The answer to both questions is yes.

“Did the accused fail to take steps which he should have reasonably taken to guard against the consequence? Again the answer is yes.

“I am of the view the accused acted too hastily and used too much force. It is clear his conduct is negligent.”

Pistorius will be braced to expect another media scrum when he returns to court tomorrow.

In addition to the manslaughter charge, the decorated athlete will also face verdicts in three alleged firearms offences. Any conviction is likely to result in an adjournment for sentencing.

Earlier, judge Masipa said there was insufficient evidence to support the prosecution’s claim that the double-amputee intended to kill his law graduate girlfriend.

She said: “The state clearly has not provided beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of pre-meditated murder.

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

Before the session began, Pistorius hugged his brother Carl, who was seated in a wheelchair because of injuries suffered in a recent car crash.

Ms Steenkamp’s parents were also in the packed gallery. Other members of Pistorius’ family, including his father Henke, sat behind him.

Delivering her verdict, the judge - determining the defendant’s fate as South Africa does not have a jury system - said some witnesses had failed to separate their own evidence from details contained in press coverage, acknowledging the way the trial had been televised. It is seen as a landmark case in the South African judicial system.

The trial opened some six months ago with a witness describing how she heard “bloodcurdling screams” on the night of the shooting.

The prosecution, led by Gerrie Nel - nicknamed The Bulldog for his courtroom tenacity - sought to depict the star as having a short fuse and being obsessed with guns, calling a former girlfriend who told the trial that the defendant once shot his gun out of the sunroof of a car.

His defence team, headed by Barry Roux, presented a case that portrayed him as anxious about crime and claimed evidence at the scene was mishandled.

The trial’s tensest and most dramatic moments came in several days of highly charged testimony from Pistorius.

His voice thick with emotion, the athlete began his evidence by saying sorry to Ms Steenkamp’s family.

Watched by the model’s mother June, he said: “I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.”

Mrs Steenkamp later told Hello! Magazine she has forgiven him.

The verdict hearing is due to resume tomorrow morning.