A South African judge acquitted Olympian Oscar Pistorius Thursday morning of murder charges filed in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year. Judge Thokozile Masipa could still find him guilty of culpable homicide — a charge similar to manslaughter.
Pistorius admitted to firing the four shots that killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but claimed he thought he was shooting at a home intruder who was hiding behind a bathroom door. Pistorius told police he believed Steenkamp had been asleep in a nearby bedroom.
Prosecutors argued that Pistorius and Steenkamp had a volatile relationship and the disabled athlete shot his girlfriend during a violent argument.
The Los Angeles Times reports Masipa said the burden had been on the prosecutors to prove that Pistorius planned the killing and she failed to find sufficient evidence to convict him of premeditated murder.
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“The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder,” Masipa told the court according to the Daily Mail. “There are just not enough facts to support such a finding.”
Furthermore, she said, there was not enough evidence to prove that the Olympic sprinter ever meant to kill the person behind the door.
“The question is, did the accused foresee the possibility of the resultant death, yet persisted in his deed reckless of whether death (was) ensured or not?” Masipa said. “In the circumstances of this case, the answer has to be no. … Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door, let alone the deceased — as he thought she was in the bedroom at the time.”
Pistorius reportedly wept while the judge read her verdict.
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The South African runner and Paralympian gold medalist shot to fame during the 2012 London Olympics where, using prosthetic legs referred to as “blades,” he competed against able-bodied athletes.
Since the death of Steenkamp, his public image has suffered. Prosecutors have worked to paint Pistorius as a reckless individual with a quick temper who is obsessed with guns and fast cars.
Apart from the pending decision on the culpable manslaughter charge, he also faces three other charges. The most serious, according to CNN, is related to the possession of ammunition for which he did not have a license. If convicted on that charge, Pistorius could face 15 years in prison, though a lesser sentence is likely. He also faces two charges of recklessly firing a gun in public — once in a restaurant in 2012 and again out of the sunroof of a car in 2013. Each charge could carry a five-year sentence. He denies all of the charges.
Masipa could issue rulings on all charges as early as Thursday afternoon. There is no minimum sentence for culpable homicide, the penalty would be left up to the judge.