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Judge Masipa Finds Oscar Pistorius Not Guilty of Premeditated Murder

A gavel

Though cleared by the judge of murder, Pistorius will likely face a lesser charge.

Judge Masipa has been summarizing the evidence in a manner that suggests she may conclude that Oscar Pistorius is guilty of culpable (i.e., negligent) homicide, which is punishable by a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

I base my prediction on the following comments, as reported by The Guardian:

1. Judge accepts defence timeline of events and rejects neighbours’ evidence.

2. It ‘makes sense’ that screaming was Pistorius, not Steenkamp.

After finding that Pistorius “was a very poor witness,” she warned that “an assumption that because an accused is untruthful, he must be guilty, “must be guarded against.”

Masipa says Steenkamp was killed under “peculiar circumstances” that do not make sense. Why did Pistorius not check where she was before making his way to the bathroom? Why did Steenkamp not call the police, as Pistorius said he shouted to her to do, as she had her cellphone with her in the toilet?

Why did Steenkamp not hear him shout “at the top of his voice” for the intruder to get out of his house?

Unfortunately, these issues remain an issue of conjecture, the judge says.

Masipa says Pistorius was “not truthful” about his intention when arming himself with a loaded gun before approaching the bathroom. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is guilty, she adds.

On the count of premeditated murder, the judge says the evidence is “purely circumstantial”.

She says the state failed to prove that Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder.

She says there is no doubt that when the accused fired shots at the door he acted unlawfully (this statement suggests she’s going to find him guilty of culpable homicide).

Masipa says evidence does not support the state’s case that this was dolus eventualis (he must have known he was likely to kill the person by firing). He believed Steenkamp was in the bedroom. Pistorius’ account of this has remained consistent since the night of the shooting. It is “highly improbable the accused would have made this up so quickly”.

The question, she says, now is whether Pistorius proceeded “recklessly”, with reasonable foresight that the person behind the door would be killed?

She says the answer has to be no.

May the record reflect that there were audible gasps in the courtroom.

On that happy note, she recesses for lunch after ruling out premeditated and intentional murder.

Looks like she may find him guilty of culpable homicide.

Pins-and-needles time.

Photo by Keith Burtis released under a Creative Commons license.

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.

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