South Africa's top appeals court has overturned a lesser judgement and convicted superstar athlete Oscar Pistorius of murder — agreeing with prosecutors who say he meant to kill when he shot dead his girlfriend.
Before he began his lengthy remarks, South African Judge of Appeal Eric Leach described the case as “a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.”
No less dramatic was his final ruling nearly an hour later.
In calm, detailed language, he methodically dismantled Judge Thokozile Masipa’s original ruling and concluded on behalf of the five-judge panel that Pistorius should have been convicted of murder for his actions that led to the death of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Judge Eric Leach delivers his judgement in the Oscar Pistorius case in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, Dec. 3, 2015.
"The accused's conviction and sentence on count one are set aside and replaced with the following: guilty of murder, with the accused having had criminal intent in the form of dolus eventualis. Three, the matter is referred back to the trial court to consider an appropriate sentence afresh in the light of the comments in this judgment," said Leach.
Pistorius claims he mistook his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, for an intruder when he shot four times through a locked bathroom door at his Pretoria home, killing her. Prosecutors argued that he meant to kill Steenkamp.
South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an awards ceremony, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 4, 2012.
Leach says the judges concluded with “no doubt” that Pistorius foresaw that the person behind the door would die after he pumped four bullets into it.
This signals what may be the final chapter in a trial that was closely watched around the world. Pistorius’ conviction of the lesser charge culpable homicide — equivalent to the U.S. charge of manslaughter — was largely met with outrage in South Africa.
That lesser charge earned him a five-year sentence. He was released on parole on October 19 after a year of time served.
Oscar Pistorius sits in court, after judge Thokozile Masipais sentence Pistorius to five years in prison, in Pretoria, South Africa, Oct. 21, 2014.
Now, he will return to court and receive a new sentence.
Pistorius, who is under house arrest as part of his parole conditions, did not attend the ruling Thursday. But Steenkamp’s mother, June, who has been a constant presence since the trial began, did. The family has long maintained that the original conviction and sentence were too light.