Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder: How the athlete's sentence was dramatically overturned

'The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt'. Tom Peck explains the Pistorius appeal verdict

Tom Peck
Thursday 03 December 2015 09:56 GMT
Pistorius found guilty of murder by court of appeal

It took Judge Eric Leach 53 minutes to read out his ruling that, for Oscar Pistorius, changed everything.

South Africa’s Supreme Court had not been asked to decide if he knew it was Reeva Steenkamp behind the door when he fired the fatal shots.

Only that, given he knew someone was behind the door, and he fired four bullets into a tiny room, should he have foreseen that his actions would have killed whoever was in there?

They decided unanimously. Yes, he did. And that is murder.

“The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt,” Judge Leach said.

He praised Judge Masipa’s handling of the original case, acknowledging the difficulties posed by the “glare of international attention.” But his judgement, unfortunately, excoriated her assessment of the case, and her application of the complex law of “dolus eventualis.”

What happens next?

Oscar Pistorius has been convicted of murder. It will now fall to Judge Masipa, the judge in the original trial, to apply a sentence.

When will that happen?

The Supreme Court did not say. But it will happen as soon as a gap in her schedule can be found. The South African authorities are very keen that this protracted trial not been drawn out any longer than is necessary.

Could he go back to prison?

He will almost certainly return to prison. The minimum indicated sentence for South Africa’s equivalent of second degree murder is 15 years. But Judge Masipa is allowed to consider “compelling factors.” Pistorius’s disability could yet be one such factor.

In short, it was her assessment that Oscar Pistorius did not foresee the likely consequences of his actions, though he should have done.

In the view of the Supreme Court, Pistorius, “Gambled with the life of the person behind the bathroom door and that he must have foreseen death.”

It will now fall to Judge Masipa to apply a new sentence. Guidelines indicate a minimum of 15 years imprisonment, minus time already served. But less can be applied if there are compelling factors.

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