South African prosecutors announced Tuesday that they’ll be seeking a murder conviction against Oscar Pistorius, a charge which the former runner was acquitted of last September. The prosecutors are making their case in South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal, arguing that the lower court’s acquittal was made in error.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Oscar Pistorius opened fire into the locked bathroom of his South Africa home, killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius alleged that he thought an intruder was in the bathroom, and he thought Reeva was still in bed.
In September 2014, he was acquitted of murder, but convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released last month after serving a year in prison to serve the remainder of his time under house arrest on his uncle’s sprawling estate, reports the New York Daily News.
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“On the objective facts, the accused cannot escape the conviction of murder,” one prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, told a panel of five judges Tuesday.
These judges, members of the South African Supreme Court of Appeal, could potentially convict Pistorius of murder, overturn his manslaughter conviction, or order another trial.
The prosecutors allege that the lower court judge, who convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide – a charge similar to manslaughter – ignored or failed to fully consider some of the circumstantial evidence against Pistorius.
“The court ignored the most important circumstantial evidence that would make the respondent’s version [of events] impossible,” said prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
The murder conviction prosecutors are arguing for hinges on a South African legal principle called “dolus eventualis” which requires that a person convicted of a lesser homicide be charged with murder if they could reasonably foresee that their actions could cause someone to be killed. In this case, whether or not Pistorius could reasonably believe that someone could die when he fired a handgun into the closed and locked bathroom in his lavish home.
Despite Pistorius testifying that he had no intention to kill the intruder he believed to be in the bathroom, prosecutors argue that his intent is irrelevant, and as long as he knew someone could be killed by firing his gun into the bathroom, then he is guilty of murder.
June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, was in the courtroom Tuesday when prosecutors put forward their argument. Oscar Pistorius was not present at the hearing.
Pistorius was represented by attorney Barry Roux, who argued against the murder conviction in his first trial. Roux continued his arguments Tuesday, stating again that Pistorius did not foresee that firing into the small bathroom would kill someone.
“If you look at the photographs, there’s room behind there for a toilet bowl and a person and just about nothing else, there’s nowhere to hide,” Justice Lorimer Leach responded, incredulous, “It would be a miracle if you didn’t shoot someone.”
The prosecutors are seeking a murder conviction which would require a minimum 15-year sentence for the former Olympic runner.
The Supreme Court of Appeals in South Africa cannot reconsider the facts of the case, and their judgment and broad discretion – which includes the ability to convict Pistorius outright – can only be based on the application of the law in the earlier case.
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The arguments put forth by the prosecution and the defense were detailed and highly technical, but broadcast on South African TV Tuesday. The broadcast required that all parties be wired with microphones, one of which caught defense attorney Barry Roux whisper an aside to prosecutor Gerrie Nel after their respective arguments had been made before the justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“I’m going to lose,” Roux said, reports the BBC.
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