Last Friday Judge Thokozile Masipa found Olympic double-amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide and not murder, after he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead on Valentines’ Day in 2013.
Her verdict attracted divergent views from people online, with some saying it was unfair while many admitted that they had no idea what that meant. Did it mean that Pistorius killed his girlfriend but didn’t kill her at the same time – confusing, right?
With all these questions flying around we spoke to a few people to break down this legal jargon and try to put some kind of perspective to a case that has attracted worldwide attention.
Murder vs culpable homicide
Prossy Nambatya, a lawyer with Sebaalu and Lule Aocates, explains culpable homicide.
“It means there was no intention to kill but the actions were negligent and not in keeping with a reasonable person.”
Pistorius admitted to shooting Steenkamp, and therefore killing her. What he denied is doing it on purpose. The double-amputee athlete said he thought he was shooting at an intruder who had broken into his house through his bathroom.
“The prosecution in this case would have to prove malice aforethought for instance proving that there was a quarrel before the shooting or that the relationship was bad [in the days leading to] the incident. Malice aforethought means he had an intention to kill,” Robert Kirunda, an aocate working with Kirunda and Wasige Company Aocates explains.
Judge Masipa based her decision on the argument that Pistorius had ample time to call for help, rather than going to confront a perceived intruder with a loaded gun. “The accused had reasonable time to reflect, to think and conduct himself reasonably,” she said adding that, “The accused knew that there was a person behind the door, he chose to use a firearm which was a lethal weapon, [and he] was competent in the use of firearms as he had received training.”
Pistorius’ defence team tried to play on his being a double amputee to explain why he acted so fast. The judge rejected this argument saying Pistorius is more likely to confront danger adding that, “Vulnerability is not unique. There are many people in this country without any form of security at all. The accused acted too hastily and used excessive force.”
“In most cases, if you are found guilty, you will be taken straight to the cells. But what was unique in this case is that Pistorius’ bail was extended up to the day judgment will be passed,” Nambatya wonders, throwing light to another bit of this case some people wondered about –whether it was normal for someone found guilty to get bail.
The sentence for culpable homicide is a maximum of 15 years in jail. However, after mitigation the sentence could be reduced. Judgment on Pistorius’ case will be passed as soon as his lawyers mitigate the sentence –that is making a case for fewer years.
What the conviction means to his career
Full of high drama that included Pistorius weeping in court, the trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts on almost all the international televisions.
With all the recent negative publicity, Pistorius’ glittering sporting career is likely to be over. Once a poster boy for disabled sport, he has been stripped of lucrative endorsement deals by global brands and has withdrawn from all competition.
The case will return to the global spotlight when Pistorius, who is free on bail, appears before the judge for a sentencing hearing on October 13.
South Africans react
Reports show that several legal groups in South Africa have expressed concern about threats and harsh criticism of the judge who found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, but not guilty of the more serious charge of murder.
Some South Africans said they were surprised and even shocked when Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled last week that the Paralympic champion was negligent but did not intend to kill when he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a closed toilet door. Pistorius said he thought a dangerous intruder was in his house prosecutors alleged he intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument.
Police protection for Masipa has been stepped up since the verdict in the sensational case South African media reports.
In a statement, three legal groups described a “wave of criticism” directed at Masipa that in some cases could border on hate speech, defamation and contempt of court. The comments include allegations that the judge is corrupt, as well as attacks on her race and gender.
Some women’s groups have also raised concerns that this case might increase incidents of domestic violence, with men figuring they can find their way around the law. South Africa’s National Network on Violence against Women estimates that on average, three women are killed by the hands of the their boyfriends and husbands each day. This and many other groups have used this statistic in light of Pistorius’ trial, saying in the 41 days of the trial, roughly 123 women were killed by their partners.
Oscar Pistorius is a leading South African runner, who won attention as an athlete with a disability competing at a high level, including at multiple Paralympic Games and the 2012 Summer Olympics. Reeva Steenkamp, a model, was his girlfriend. In the early morning of Thursday, 14 February 2013, Steenkamp was shot and killed by Pistorius at his Pretoria home. Pistorius acknowledged that he shot Steenkamp, but said that he mistook her for an intruder. Pistorius was taken into police custody and was formally charged with murder in a Pretoria court on February 15 2013.
Relating it to Ugandan law
with Kirunda and Wasige Company aocates explains that unlike South Africa which has murder, premeditated murder, manslaughter and culpable homicide, Uganda only has murder and manslaughter.
“Manslaughter in Uganda is causing someone’s death when you didn’t intend to kill them. For example knocking down someone with a car and the lawyers prove that it was an accident,” Prossy Nambatya explains. With murder, it means the intention was there.
Kirunda says had Pistorius been in Uganda, it might have been difficult for him to be free of the murder charges after he confessed to killing Steenkamp.
Oscar Pistorius was also convicted of illegally discharging a firearm in a restaurant – he could receive a jail term on this charge alone.
He was acquitted of illegally firing a gun through a car sunroof, after the judge said the witnesses were unreliable.
He was also acquitted of illegal possession of ammunition.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor