WASHINGTON DC —
A South African judge’s verdict finding track star Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide – but clearing him of more serious murder charges – has quickly polarized South Africans.
After hours of long, often detailed legal explanations, Judge Thokozile Masipa kept it brief Friday when she finally handed down her long-awaited judgment to Pistorius for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home last year.
Pistorius said he mistook her for an intruder in the middle of the night and did not mean to kill her.
Masipa agreed. "The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder,” she said. “… The accused is found not guilty and is discharged. Instead, he is found guilty of culpable homicide."
The judge explained her decision during Thursday's proceedings, when she said Pistorius was negligent and had "acted too hastily and used excessive force."
Pistorius stood completely still Friday as the judge finished reading her four-part verdict. She also convicted him of his role in firing a loaded gun in a packed Johannesburg restaurant just weeks before he shot Steenkamp. Masipa cleared him of two other weapons-related charges.
The Pistorius family, which has been in the court for months, reacted impassively. Meanwhile, Steeknamp's supporters and relatives wept quietly or stared ahead in what appeared to be shock.
Masipa later said Pistorius could remain free on bail until sentencing on October 13.
A Twitter backlash
As the verdict was announced, Twitter was suddenly flooded with angry reactions from South Africans, who said Masipa was too lenient.
Several top legal scholars took to Twitter and local news outlets to dispute Masipa's interpretation of the case, saying she could have convicted him of a charge just below premeditated murder, called "dolus eventualis," which is more serious than culpable homicide.
Just outside the court, Trevor Buckland, 50, a pastor of a local church, said he disagreed with the verdict. He said he thought this was a case of domestic abuse taken to a tragic end.
"He knew what he was doing," Buckland said of Pistorius. "So we feel it was in the courts hands to serve justice, and Reeva has been failed. Because Oscar Pistorius is guilty as can be. … It promotes that, as long as you've got money, you can kill your wife or your girlfriend or whatever. "
But postgraduate student Malagji Foster, 23, said he thought Masipa's verdict was fair.
"I agree with her 100 percent, sure," Foster said. "Because, if you can look at the whole case, it was full of circumstantial evidence. Because all people were not there when the incident occurred. Even the experts, the forensic experts, couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius committed premeditated murder."
Pistorius, nicknamed "blade runner" for being the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, shot to fame in the 2012 Games.
He could face up to 15 years in prison for the culpable homicide conviction. He had faced a prison sentence of 25 years or more if found guilty of premeditated murder.
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said it was "disappointed" with the verdict and would decide whether to appeal after sentencing.
South Africa does not have jury trials. Judge Masipa decided the case with the help of two legal assistants.
The 66-year-old jurist is only the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge in South Africa. She has a reputation for handing down stiff sentences in crimes against women.