A murder conviction was handed down to South African Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius today by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
This represents the lowest point in Pistorius’ spectacular fall from grace since that fateful day on 14 February 2013 when he unleashed four gun shots into the bathroom cubicle at his Pretoria home, fatally wounding his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Once the darling of South African athletics and the poster boy of world Paralympics, Pistorius know faces the very real prospect of 15 years in jail.
The South African public and Athletics South Africa held Pistorius in very high esteem and he was selected to carry the South African flag during the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony and the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. The 2012 Olympics were the highlight of his career, as he became the first double amputee to take part in the event.
After a high profile trial, which was the first in South African history to be fully televised and gripped the nation’s attention, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide (unintentional killing) on 12 September 2014. High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa handed down a sentence of five years, to be served in the hospital section of the Kgosi Mampuru prison. Under South African law he was released after serving one sixth of his sentence, with the rest of his sentence to be served under house arrest.
The State decided to appeal the sentence in front of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), with Prosecuter Gerrie Nel being of the opinion that Judge Masipa had incorrectly interpreted the law and Pistorius should have been found guilty of the much more serious crime of dolus eventualis. This aspect of law is used to describe the actions of a person who should have realised that their actions would have caused the death of another person, but proceeded with their actions anyway. Like the original trial, the appeal was also televised, providing the South African public with a facinating view of their legal process in action.
Before setting aside the original culpable homicide conviction, Justice Eric Leach highlighted what had swayed the Court and how they had arrived at a unanimous decision. These included the fact that Pistorius had shown that he was a poor witness during the original trial and could not provide a reasonable explanation as to why he felt the need to pull the trigger. What further counted against Pistorius was that he was an avid gun user and had passed the competency test in order to obtain a gun licence. There could be no way that he could not foresee that by shooting four specialized Black Talon bullets into the toilet cubicle would kill the person in there, irrespective of who it was.
Leach further pointed out that Masipa had disregarded circumstantial evidence, such as that supplied by South African Police Captain Chris Mangena. Mangena is a ballistics expert and the SCA stated that his reconstruction of the crime scene was particularly helpful to them. They also concluded that Judge Masipa has not applied an adequate legal test when deliberating between culpable homicide and dolus eventualus.
Pistorius will face Judge Masipa once more in early 2016, where she will now have to sentence him as a convicted murderer and unless his Defence team can prove mitigating circumstances he is facing a fifteen year prison sentence. According to legal experts, his only recourse now would be to lodge an appeal with the Constitutional Court with the hope of proving that televising his trial had somehow compromised him with witnesses being influenced by what they had seen on televion.
This trial has had a significant impact on the South African public. In some ways, the legal system itself has been on trial, with the entire process being laid bare for all to see how it works. It also highlighted the fact that nobody is above the law, no matter what you celebrity status.