Pistorius found guilty of ‘Culpable Homicide’

Posted at 4:47 AM, Sep 12, 2014

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

The verdict comes a day after Judge Thokozile Masipa cleared Pistorius of murder in the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp — but he could still end up behind bars.

The maximum prison sentence for culpable homicide is 15 years.

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 at his house. B

The judge found Pistorius guilty of the third: a charge involving a shooting at a restaurant.

Weapons charges

In a shooting from a car’s sunroof, Judge Thokozile 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 the the pair’s version of events differed too much.

In another shooting at a restaurant, she said the state had proven 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 handle it.

In the third, Pistorius was found not guilty of an ammunition charge. Masipa saids the state failed to introduce evidence that proved he intended to possess the ammunition

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 Steenkamp, Masipa 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, then 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, claiming that 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.”

Though she did not formally pronounce Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, her statements from the bench essentially added up to a definition of the crime, said CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps.

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

Not guilty of murder

Masipa found Pistorius not guilty Thursday 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 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 victim’s parents, Barry and June Steenkamp, sat expressionless a row behind and across the court from the man on trial for killing their daughter. Her father bowed his head as he heard about his daughter’s fatal wounds.

Pistorius’ uncle and aunt, sister and brother also attended the hearing in the packed courtroom — the latter in a wheelchair from a car accident.

The Olympian’s trial in the death of his model and law graduate girlfriend started six months ago, transfixing the world with graphic details of how he fatally shot Steenkamp.

Lesser charges

Pistorius also faced three weapons charges.

The most serious relates to ammunition found in his house when police searched it after the killing. He did not have a proper license for it, but he says he was storing it in his safe for his father.

If he is found guilty of the ammunition charge, he could face up to 15 years in prison, though the judge could opt for a lesser punishment such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.

Two other charges are related to allegations that he recklessly fired a gun in public — once in a restaurant in 2012, and again out of the sunroof of a car last year. The judge acquitted the latter but found him guilty of the former.

The maximum penalty for each charge is five years behind bars. If he is convicted of either, he could face a lesser sentence, such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.