The Judge presiding over the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic athlete, on Thursday cleared him of the two most serious murder charges almost certainly sparing him a long prison sentence.
Judge Thokozile Masipa cleared Pistorius of two charges, premeditated murder, which carries a minimum mandatory term of 25 years, and a lesser charge of homicide, known simply as “murder.”
The judge in the trial that has attracted universal interest stated that the state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder.
She noted that in totality, the evidence provided also did not prove that the accused had requisite intention to murder his long time girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, let alone with premeditation, as she also dismissed the lesser charge of common murder.
The 66-year-old judge also cast doubt on witness accounts of hearing a woman’s screams, a key part of the prosecution’s case.
She further cast serious doubt on whether witnesses who were hundreds of meters away in their homes could have differentiated between the screams of a man or a woman.
The defense had argued that it was Pistorius who was screaming in a high-pitched voice after discovering he had fatally shot Steenkamp.
Since his trial opened in March, Pistorius, 27, a double amputee who has challenged able-bodied runners, has faced accusations that he deliberately took the life of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, when he fired into a locked bathroom door at his villa in Pretoria, the South African capital, on Feb. 14, 2013.
Pistorius had insisted that he killed Steenkamp, who was in the bathroom, in error believing that an intruder had entered his home.
He could still be found guilty of culpable homicide which carries anything from a suspended sentence to a lengthy prison stretch.
In her hours-long assessment of witness evidence, Judge Masipa called Pistorius a “very poor witness” who had lost his composure on the stand and was at times “evasive.” But Masipa emphasized that did not mean he was guilty of murder.