South Africa’s top appeals court has upgraded Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius’s conviction to murder for killing his girlfriend.
Pistorius faces at least 15 years in jail now his conviction has been changed to murder for killing Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 in a sensational case that continues to fascinate and divide the world.
Last year a judge gave the disgraced Olympic and Paralympic gold medallist a five-year jail sentence for “culpable homicide” of Steenkamp, but prosecutors said he should be convicted of murder for firing four shots through a locked toilet door.
State prosecutors who lodged the appeal argued that the 29-year-old intended to kill Steenkamp and that she fled to a toilet during a row. Pistorius has always denied deliberately killing Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder at his home.
The Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein has upheld the prosecutors’ appeal – with judge Eric Leach stating that the original judgement was flawed, a decision agreed on by all five judges at the highest court of appeal in South Africa, and that “in the interests of justice” he should not have been convicted of a lesser crime.
Justice Leach agreed with the prosecutors that Pistorius knew that his actions were likely to result in the death of the person behind his bathroom door, regardless of whether it was Steenkamp or anyone else.
The key point of law related to “Dolus eventualis”, which refers to whether a person foresees the possibility that his or her action will cause death but carries on regardless. Leach concluded that Pistorius did indeed know that his actions would probably cause death but carried on regardless.
KEY LINES FROM THE JUDGEMENT
“I have no doubt that when firing the shots Pistorius must have foreseen whoever behind the door might be killed. The identity of the person behind the door is irrelevant,” said Justice Leach in his judgement.
“The accused may have been anxious, but a rational person could not have believed they were entitled to open fire…
“In the interest of justice an accused should be sentenced on the crime they were convicted – not a lesser crime…. culpable homicide must be set aside and replaced with correct conviction.”
Leach also poured huge criticism on Pistorius’s own account.
“His evidence is so contradictory that one just does not know the true explanation for firing,” he added.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The athlete left jail on parole in October and was to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.
However, he will now return to the original court for re-sentencing. Justice Leach added that the time already served will be taken into account in the new sentence.
Arguments will be heard from both sides regarding sentencing, though a murder conviction in South Africa carries a sentence of at least 15 years.
A retrial had been mentioned as a possibility, but the practicalities of trying the athlete again in the glare of publicity were always thought to make that option unlikely.
Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby but who went on to become a global sporting hero, did not attend Thursday’s court session in Bloemfontein, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Johannesburg.
The case has prompted a fierce debate in a country beset by high levels of violent crime. Some rights groups say the white track star – dubbed “Blade Runner” because of the carbon fibre prosthetic blades he uses to race – got preferential treatment.
Additional reporting via Reuters