Oscar Pistorius murder trial: The possible verdicts – and what they mean

The Paralymic athlete will learn his fate tomorrow, when Judge Masipa delivers her verdict on the murder trial that has captivated the world

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The Independent Online

The Paralympic athlete has been on trial for the past six and a half months, while a Pretoria court sought to establish the truth behind the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked toilet door on the night of Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius and his legal team argue that he not guilty of murder, maintaining that he mistook Ms Steenkamp for a dangerous intruder and fired shots out of panic and fear. However, the prosecution says that he deliberately shot his girlfriend following an argument.

Oscar Pistorius trial live

Even if athlete is acquitted of deliberately murdering Ms Steenkamp, he could still spend years in prison. The Blade Runner also faces three other unrelated charges – two for firing a gun in a public space, and one for illegally possessing ammunition.

Judge Masipa will scrutinise evidence given by 37 witnesses during the case. The verdict on whether Pistorius intentionally killed Ms Steenkamp is expected to take hours, but could run in to days. 


The possible verdicts include:

Guilty of murder

If Pistorius is convicted of intentionally killing Ms Steenkamp, Judge Masipa will have to decide whether the murder was premeditated or not. In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a life sentence in prison with a minimum of 25 years before the chance of parole.

Pistorius could also be convicted of murder without pre-planning, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter)

If Judge Masipa finds that Pistorius did not intend to kill Ms Steenkamp, but did so by firing recklessly, he would be acquitted of murder, but may face a charge of culpable homicide (manslaughter). This focuses on negligence rather than intent, and so carries a lesser sentence of five years, which can be increased or decreased depending on the circumstances surrounding the killing. 

Guilty of discharging firearms in public

Pistorius is also charged with two unrelated charges of discharging a firearm in public – once in restaurant in 2013, and once through a car sun roof in 2012. The athlete could be sentenced to five years in prison on each count, however Judge Masipa would be far more likely to impose a non custodial sentence such as a fine.

Guilty of illegal possession of ammunition

Pistorius has admitted to being in possession of ammunition for an unlicensed firearm. This could carry a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Not guilty on all charges

If Judge Masipa accepts that Pistorius had no intention to kill and acted in self-defence - formally known as ‘putative private defence’ - and was not guilty of the other three charges that have been brought against him, he would leave the court a free man.

Sentencing and appeal

If there is a conviction, a second trial will begin with the prosecutors and defence will have the chance to present further witnesses – from family members to psychiatrists – before Judge Masipa decides if and how long Pistorius goes to prison.

After a sentence is delivered, Pistorius will be able to appeal both the conviction and the sentence.

Additional reporting by AP