'Dolus eventualis' in spotlight again as South Africa court considers Pistorius' fate

Wed Nov 4, 2015 6:59am EST
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By Stella Mapenzauswa

BLOEMFONTEIN (Reuters) - That South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp when he fired four shots through a locked toilet in his home is beyond doubt.

But whether he will be heading back to jail for a long spell or enjoying the relative comfort of house arrest will depend on how the Supreme Court of Appeal interprets the legal principle known by the Latin words "dolus eventualis".

It refers to whether a person foresees the possibility that his or her action will cause death but carries on regardless. It was the crucial element in High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa's decision in the original trial to convict Pistorius of culpable homicide instead of the more serious offense of murder.

The previously arcane phrase - which means "eventual fraud" - became ubiquitous during the seven-month trial, from conversations to news columns. When the state opened its appeal on Tuesday seeking to change the conviction to murder, one media commentator even called it "Dolus Eventualis Day".

Judge Masipa said prosecutors had failed to prove Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp, a law graduate turned model, when he fired through the toilet door at his house in an upmarket suburb of Pretoria in the early hours of Valentine's Day, 2013.

Pistorius had argued that he thought an intruder was in the toilet and that he assumed his girlfriend was safely in bed and out of firing range, a version the state has rejected.

"The submission we made is that there was foresight, that (when) a person (is) standing behind a door in a small cubicle, if you fire four shots into that, a person will die," prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the Supreme Court, opening the challenge on Tuesday.

The prison service released Pistorius on parole last month after he had served about a year of a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter.   Continued...

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius looks on ahead of his sentencing hearing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, in this October 16, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/Files