Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide over girlfriend's shooting death

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius (left) chats with his uncle Arnold ahead of the verdict in his trial at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius (left) chats with his uncle Arnold ahead of the verdict in his trial at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Barry, father of Reeva Steenkamp, is seen ahead of the verdict in the trial of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Barry, father of Reeva Steenkamp, is seen ahead of the verdict in the trial of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
June, mother of the late Reeva Steenkamp, enters the Pretoria High Court on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
June, mother of the late Reeva Steenkamp, enters the Pretoria High Court on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius arrives at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius arrives at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius (centre) arrives at the High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius (centre) arrives at the High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius arrives at the High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Paralympian Oscar Pistorius arrives at the High Court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius listens to the verdict in his trial at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius listens to the verdict in his trial at the high court in Pretoria on Sept 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

PRETORIA (AFP/REUTERS) - South African Judge Thokozile Masipa on Friday found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, after he was cleared of intentionally murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

On the charge of murder, Judge Masipa said: “The accused is found not guilty and is discharged, instead he is found guilty of culpable homicide.”

The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic track star, who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, stood impassively in the dock, his hands folded in front of him, as Judge Masipa delivered her verdict.

She also extended Pistorius' bail and set a date of Oct 13 for sentencing. Judge Masipa said: "I have used my discretion in favour of the accused, I grant (the) application to extend the bail."

The judge based her culpable homicide decision on the fact that Pistorius had acted unreasonably and negligently when he fired four shots from a 9mm pistol into a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home, killing Ms Steenkamp, who was behind it, almost instantly.Culpable homicide – South Africa’s equivalent to manslaughter – carries up to 15 years in prison.The state had argued that Pistorius was deliberately trying to kill Ms Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, after a row in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year, but Judge Masipa ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove the allegations.

Judge Masipa also found Pistorius guilty of negligently handling a gun in a restaurant, but acquitted him on two other firearm charges.

In the state's first victory after the shock dismissal of murder charges against the star athlete, the judge said Pistorius was guilty of recklessly discharging a firearm in a packed Johannesburg restaurant.

Pistorius was accused of asking to see a gun in Tasha's restaurant and while handling it under the table, the firearm went off.

"He may not have intentionally pulled the trigger... that does not absolve him of the crime of negligently handling a firearm," said Judge Masipa.

Pistorius, who had remained emotionless the whole morning, started clenching his jaw during the ruling.

Masipa had however cleared Pistorius on charges of illegally possessing ammunition, which the sprinter said belonged to his father.

She also said there was not enough evidence to suggest he was guilty of another count of shooting a gun through a car sunroof.

Pistorius returned to court on Friday after being cleared of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Judge Thokozile Masipa had adjourned on Thursday seconds after saying key elements of culpable homicide were satisfied in the Valentine's Day 2013 shooting. "I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and used excessive force. It is clear that his conduct was negligent," Judge Masipa told the packed courtroom before packing up for the day.

She also said he had not acted "reasonably" and dismissed defence arguments about Pistorius' heightened sense of fear because of his disability, saying he was not the only vulnerable person in South Africa. "Many people in this country have experienced crime or the affects thereof," she said. "Many have been victims of violent crime but they have not resorted to sleeping with firearms under their pillows."

Earlier, Judge Masipa ruled that prosecutors, led by the combative Gerrie Nel, had failed to prove the 27-year-old intended to kill Ms Steenkamp after an argument.

The defence said Pistorius shot Ms Steenkamp as a result of a tragic accident after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a locked toilet door.

As Judge Masipa delivered her not-guilty decision on the primary charge of premeditated murder, Pistorius, who would have faced at least 25 years behind bars if convicted, sat sobbing in the dock, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Culpable homicide - the South African equivalent of manslaughter - carries up to 15 years in prison but has no minimum sentence.

Although Judge Masipa described Pistorius as a "very poor" and "evasive" witness, she said it did not mean he was necessarily guilty in a case heavily reliant on circumstantial evidence. "The state has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder," she said. "There are just not enough facts to support such a finding."

She then proceeded to absolve Pistorius of a lesser murder charge that requires a different concept of intent, known by the legal term "dolus eventualis", which holds you responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions.

Legal experts said the state might question this ruling. "I think the verdict on premeditated murder is acceptable and well reasoned and not a surprise," said Mr Stephen Tuson, a law professor at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand. "However, on dolus eventualis, I think the state would arguably be able to appeal," he added.

The case has transfixed millions around the world who admired Pistorius, a man whose lower legs were amputated as a baby but who reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the London Olympics in 2012 running on carbon-fibre prosthetics.

That same year, Time magazine included him in its list of the world's 100 most influential people, "the definition of global inspiration".

In sports-mad South Africa, the shooting caused an even bigger impact, the stunning downfall of a sporting hero feted by black and white alike in a society still divided by its racist past.