Pistorius cleared of murder, culpable homicide verdict to come

Thu Sep 11, 2014 10:17am EDT
 
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By Stella Mapenzauswa and Peroshni Govender

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius was cleared on Thursday of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but the Olympic and Paralympic track star faces a troubled night after the South African judge adjourned for the day before ruling on a charge of culpable homicide.

The double-amputee, once one of the biggest names in world athletics, has reason to fear a guilty verdict after Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned seconds after saying key elements of the culpable homicide charge were satisfied when he shot Steenkamp dead on Valentine's Day last year.

"I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force. It is clear that his conduct was negligent," she told the packed courtroom before adjourning until Friday. She also said he had not acted "reasonably".

Earlier, Masipa ruled that prosecutors, led by the combative Gerrie Nel, had failed to prove the 27-year-old intended to kill Steenkamp after an argument.

The defense said Pistorius shot Steenkamp as a result of a tragic accident after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a locked toilet door.

As Masipa delivered her not-guilty decision on the primary charge of premeditated murder, Pistorius, who would have faced at least 25 years behind bars if convicted, sat sobbing in the dock, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Culpable homicide - the South African equivalent of Britain's manslaughter - carries up to 15 years in prison but has no minimum sentence.

Although Masipa described Pistorius as a "very poor" and "evasive" witness, she said it did not mean he was necessarily guilty in a case heavily reliant on circumstantial evidence.   Continued...

 
South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius (C) leaves the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, September 11, 2014.   REUTERS/Mike Hutchings