Oscar Pistorius convicted of murder after appeals court overturns earlier conviction

An emotional Oscar Pistorius is seen in the dock as judgment is handed down in his murder trial at the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday, 11 September 2014.

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A Paralympic gold medalist has been found guilty of murdering his girlfriend after his previous conviction of culpable homicide was overturned.

Oscar Pistorius had been in prison since October of last year, when a judge sentenced him to five years for culpable homicide in the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius shot the model and law school graduate on Valentine’s Day 2013. He has said he mistook her for an intruder.

Authorities say he shot her four times through a locked bathroom door.

State prosecutors appealed the verdict of culpable homicide, seeking a conviction on more severe charges.

On Thursday, they got just that.

Judge Eric Leach ruled Thursday that Pistorius should have foreseen that his firing of a gun would have killed whoever was behind the door in his bathroom, regardless of whether he thought it was Steenkamp or an intruder.

The original court judgment had been “fundamentally flawed,” Leach said. He also called the circumstances surrounding Steenkamp’s death ” a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.”

The ruling rested over the concept of dolus eventualis, or whether Pistorius should have foreseen his actions would lead to death.

Leach slammed the original judge’s failure to assess adequately ballistic evidence that showed Pistorius’ firing in to the bathroom stall would have resulted in the person inside being struck.

It was “common sense” that Pistorius must have known he was carrying out a potentially lethal act that “gambled with life” when he fired his gun through the closed toilet door, he said.

“All the shots fired through the door would almost inevitably have struck the person behind it. There would be effectively no place to hide,” Leach said.

He called Pistorius’ testimony about his actions “unacceptable,” “vacillating” and “contradictory.”

Prosecutors had argued that the 29-year old — known as the “Blade Runner” in a reference to the prosthetic legs he uses when he races — intentionally killed Steenkamp following an argument.

Leach said that although Pistorius had genuine beliefs his life was in danger, he should have acted more rationally.

He never fired a warning shot and shot not once but four times.

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

 

His jail term hasn’t been decided, but he faces up to 15 years in prison.

 

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps said that double jeopardy — a defense that prevents a criminal defendant from being retried on the same charges following a verdict — did not technically apply in the Pistorius case for two reasons.

The first was that Pistorius wasn’t completely acquitted on the original charge but had been convicted of culpable homicide.

“Strictly speaking, because murder wasn’t a separate charge but was tied in with the culpable homicide charge, it’s not considered technically … as reconsidering a case where there has been a complete acquittal,” said Phelps, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Cape Town.

The second reason, she said, was that the appeal “was based on a question of law, not a question of fact.”

“The argument is that where there’s been a mistake in law that’s been made — that is the only reason that an incorrect verdict has been reached — it would be offensive to the interests of justice in order to allow that verdict to stand,” she said.

Pistorius will likely appeal and take the case to the country’s Constitutional Court.

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