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3 December 2015

Oscar Pistorius did murder girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, court rules

The judge ruled that the athlete did, in fact, murder girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

By Barbara Speed

Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after a South African appeals court overturned his original conviction for manslaughter.

The athlete shot Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door in 2013, and said he believed there was an intruder in the house. 

The verdict was changed thanks to the South African legal principle of dolus eventualis. This is a lesser charge of murder applied to those who knew their actions would lead to someone’s death, but carried on regardless. In the original conviction, the judge ruled that Pistorius would have needed to know he would kill Steenkamp specifically for the principle to apply. 

But Justice Leach told the South African Supreme Court of Appeal this week that Pistorius knew shooting through the door was likely to kill whoever was behind it regardless of their identity, so he was guilty of murder:

“In these circumstances, the accused must have foreseen and, therefore, did foresee that whoever was behind the toilet door might die but reconciled himself to that even occurring and gambled with that person’s life. The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt.”

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The athlete has served one year of a five year sentence in prison and is currently under house arrest. He will soon return to court to be resentenced based on the new charge.

At the time of Pistorius’s first conviction, Sarah Ditum wrote for the New Statesman on the context of the couple’s relationship and the realities of living as a woman in South Africa: 

Reeva Steenkamp said she was afraid. “I’m scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me,” she wrote to Pistorius in the WhatsApp messages that were presented as evidence during the trial – messages which Judge Thokozile Masipa declared “prove nothing”. “Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable sometimes,” said Masipa. And Steenkamp did not predict the actual act of violence that killed her. Nevertheless, her fears were realised. 

Later, Frances Ryan responded to cries that Pistorius’s life would be “ruined” by the conviction: 

Oscar Pistorius [is] back in court this week for sentencing and already victimised. “We are left with a broken man,” his personal psychologist remarked. One “who has lost everything”. Still, less than Reeva Steenkamp, I think.