In a stunning turn of events, former Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been convicted of murdering his then-girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. If you’re an American, this outcome may seem puzzling. Our own legal system would prevent such an outcome thanks to “double jeopardy.” No such law exists in South Africa.
Pistorius was previously convicted of culpable homicide by Judge Thokozile Masipa. More than a year later, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal decided that Masipa “erred,” and that Oscar was instead guilty of murder.
Ex-Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ conviction for culpable homicide changed to murder, court says. https://t.co/OWtscriCpm
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) December 3, 2015
BBC News reports the decision, read out by Justice Eric Leach, was a unanimous one.
“Although he may have been anxious, it is inconceivable that a rational person could have believed he was entitled to fire at this person with a heavy-calibre firearm, without taking even that most elementary precaution of firing a warning shot, which the accused said he elected not to fire as he thought the ricochet might harm him.
“The accused must have foreseen and, therefore, did foresee that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life.”
Although much of Pistorius’s defense hinged on the “intruder” defense, the court felt that such circumstances were irrelevant to their murder ruling.
“A person who causes a bomb to explode in a crowded place will probably be ignorant of the identity of his or her victims,” said Leach. “But [he or she] will nevertheless have the intention to kill those who might die in the resultant explosion.”
The appellant court’s ruling was merely on the matter of what Oscar should have been charged with; the judges did NOT determine the length of time Pistorius would be spending behind bars. Sentencing is a matter that will be settled by a different court.
In South Africa, the minimum sentence for a murder charge is 15 years. It was noted by BBC News that sentencing judges can apply some discretion. For example, it’s likely that time previously served by Oscar Pistorius on the culpable homicide charge will be taken into account during sentencing. Pistorius was already out on house arrest. However, the revised ruling means he would serve out his sentence in prison.
Criminal lawyers watching the case have stated that Oscar Pistorius can, and likely will appeal the new ruling. It can be argued that the highly-publicized nature of the trial severely dampened the 29-year-old’s ability to have a fair trial. It might be difficult to prove that fact worked against him when the prior conviction and sentencing worked out to be rather lenient.
That being said, a response from the Pistorius camp is expected in the coming days, with his lawyers reportedly having upwards of 10 days to file an appeal.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 3, 2015
Reeva Steenkamp’s family expressed tremendous relief following the murder conviction. During an interview with local television station ANN7, Reeva’s father Barry Steenkamp said, “It’s a big relief. I feel it’s a fair decision.” He burst into tears while trying to explain his feelings in response to the new ruling.
He said that he hoped that now both his family and Pistorius’s could finally move forward from a tragedy and the resulting case.
“I am sure that Reeva is up there watching it and now she’s saying ‘justice was done.’ I am sure she’ll be able to rest well now.”
Those who knew and loved Steenkamp believe that the murder conviction and subsequence sentence will mean justice at last for the 27-year-old former model. Reeve’s mother, June, was in court when the decision was handed down, and was surrounded by and embraced by loved ones.
What follows now will be a matter of a possible appeal by Oscar Pistorius and the reality that he could serve a lengthy jail sentence in connection with Reeva Steenkamp’s untimely death.
[AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File]