A South African judge on Friday found Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. The verdict was issued one day after the same judge declared Pistorius not guilty of murder.
Pistorius left the Pretoria High Court escorted by police and bodyguards through a scrum of television cameras and supporters after his conviction, which is equivalent to manslaughter. Pistorius, who said he shot Steenkamp by accident while believing her to be an intruder, will be sentenced on Oct. 13, said Judge Thokozile Masipa.
Masipa based her verdict on the belief that Pistorius had acted negligently when he fired four shots from a 9mm pistol into a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home, killing Steenkamp, who was behind it, almost instantly.
The sentence for a culpable homicide conviction is at the judge's discretion, and can range from a suspended sentence and fine to up to 15 years in prison. Both the prosecution and defense will be allowed to argue and call witnesses ahead of the sentencing.
Masipa said there was not enough evidence to support the contention that Pistorius knew Steenkamp was in the bathroom when he shot through the door in the predawn hours of Valentine's Day last year. Masipa said prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp, who was 29 years old at the time of her death.
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said it was “disappointed” not to have secured a premeditated murder conviction, but would not make any decision about an appeal until after sentencing.
Unlike many other times during the trial that began in March, Pistorius showed no emotion as he stood in his dark suit with his hands crossed in front of him. The star athlete’s relatives hugged him when the judge ordered a recess shortly after announcing her verdicts. The judge later ruled that Pistorius be granted bail.
Pistorius’ defense team will now argue that a man with no previous convictions should not end up in the notorious Pretoria Central Prison, where dozens of political dissidents were detained and executed by the white-minority regime that ran South Africa until 1994.
The prison's reputation remains undimmed as the worst place in the land — the permanent, overcrowded home of armed robbers, rapists and murderers, plagued by gang violence and mental and physical abuse.
“When you arrive, the big gangs make their move on you. They have knives and razor blades. Some even carry guns,” Serge Christiano, an Angolan who spent time in the prison during seven years awaiting trial for attempted murder and armed robbery told Reuters.
“When new people come in, guys will offer them a cup of tea with a sleeping tablet in it. When they pass out, they get raped,” added Christiano, who was eventually released without charge.
But some analysts say that Pistorius is likely never to face such conditions.
“He's almost certainly, in my opinion, not going to be going to jail,” criminal law expert Martin Hood told South Africa's ENCA television.
Al Jazeera and wire services