Alon Skuy / The Times / Gallo Image / Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder, South Africa appeals court rules

Decision overturns conviction of double-amputee Olympian on lesser charge of manslaughter for killing girlfriend

A South African appeals court on Thursday convicted Oscar Pistorius of murder, overturning his conviction in a lower court on the lesser charge of manslaughter for fatally shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Justice Lorimer Eric Leach of the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered the ruling by the five-judge tribunal in Bloemfontein and directed the trial court, the North Gauteng High Court, to impose a sentence. He did not specify when that should happen. Pistorius, a double amputee and former Olympian track star, is currently under house arrest at his uncle's mansion in Pretoria.

"The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder on the basis that he had fired the fatal shots with criminal intent," Leach said to the courtroom, with Steenkamp's mother in attendance.

A 15-year prison sentence is the minimum punishment for murder in South Africa. However, the law allows for a lesser sentence to be imposed in exceptional circumstances.

Pistorius, 29, was placed under house arrest in October after serving one year in prison. He had been sentenced to five years for manslaughter and got out early, in line with corrections department regulations. The trial court may consider whether he should be shown leniency because he is disabled and is a first-time offender.

He killed Steenkamp in the early morning of Valentine's Day in 2013. He insisted he thought she was an intruder behind the door of a toilet cubicle in his home. The prosecution said he shot her during an argument.

Leach said regardless of who Pistorius thought was behind the door, he should have known someone could be killed if he fired.

"The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt," Leach said.

Under the principle of dolus eventualis in South African law, people may be convicted of murder if they foresaw that someone could die as a result of their actions and went ahead anyway.

Steenkamp's mother, June Steenkamp, sat quietly in the courtroom during the announcement, which was shown live on television. Pistorius was not there.

His family said in a statement, "The legal team will study the finding, and we will be guided by them in terms of options going forward." 

A date for Pistorius' resentencing will be announced in Pretoria, where he was tried and imprisoned.

On Tuesday journalists got a look at his former cell during a tour of a maximum security prison. It is in the hospital section of the Kgosi Mampuru II prison and is furnished with a single mattress on a metal frame, a basin in front of a white-tiled wall and a small cabinet. A barred window is backed by a metal screen, blocking the view. The austere cell is set apart from the main prison in an area with a cell for one other inmate.

Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion, became one of the world's most famous athletes and the first amputee to run at the Olympics and the able-bodied world championships. He was known as Blade Runner for his carbon-fiber running blades

Leach described the story of Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp as a "human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions" whose legal aftermath was conducted in the glare of international attention.

"A young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete," Leach said. "In doing so he becomes an international celebrity. He meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model. Romance blossoms, and then, ironically on Valentine's Day, all is destroyed when he takes her life."

The Associated Press

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