South African Judge Thokozile Masipa said on Thursday that the state had failed to prove that Oscar Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder when he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year.
“The accused therefore cannot be found guilty of murder dolus eventualis [legal intent] … that however is not the end of the matter as culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” she said, as Pistorius sobbed.
“The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder. There are just not enough facts to support such a finding,” she said.
Masipa found that Pistorius was a “very poor witness” and contradicted himself on the stand.
“During his evidence, he seemed composed and logical … [but] under cross-examination, he lost his composure …[and it seemed] the accused was suffering by enormous emotional stress and was traumatised by reliving the incident,” she said.
“The accused was, among other things, an evasive witness.”
Masipa noted that he failed to listen properly to questions, and that certain parts of his testimony did not make sense. She questioned why four shots were fired instead of one, and said Pistorius was “clearly not candid” with the court. Masipa said it was understandable that a person with a disability such as Pistorius’s would feel vulnerable when threatened by danger.
“This court is satisfied that at the relevant time, the accused could distinguish between right and wrong,” she said.
The claim that Pistorius made, that he did not think he could kill someone was rejected by the judge, and she said: “This assertion is inconsistent with someone who shot without thinking,” she read from her judgment. “I shall revert to this later.”
She was referring to Pistorius’s evidence that “he never thought he could kill someone in the toilet”, and that this only occurred to him after Steenkamp had died. She was summarising Pistorius’s evidence. She read extracts from what he had told the court: “He did not have time to think”, “he fired shots at the door but did not do so deliberately” and “he did not aim at the door but the firearm was pointed at the door”.
Masipa said Pistorius had told the court he was not ready to discharge his gun. However, the safety catch on his gun was off.
Pistorius (27), is accused of murdering Steenkamp in his Pretoria townhouse on Valentine’s Day last year. He shot her through the locked door of his toilet, apparently thinking she was an intruder about to emerge and attack him. She was hit in the hip, arm and head.
Masipa said earlier it was clear the sounds most of the witnesses heard were Pistorius using his cricket bat to break down his toilet door to get to a dying Steenkamp, and not the shots he fired. “It is clear from the rest of the evidence that these were actually the sound of the cricket bat against the door,” she said.
Defence witness and Pistorius’s immediate neighbour Eontle Hillary Nhlengethwa said she was woken by a man screaming, but did not hear shots fired. Masipa said witnesses heard three loud bangs, which was from the cricket bat, and this was “consistent with the version” of Pistorius.
She rejected evidence from Pistorius’s neighbour Estelle van der Merwe. The court could not link what she had heard in the early hours of February 14 last year to the events at Pistorius’s home. – Reuters, Sapa