Oscar Pistorius Case: Verdict Possibilities In South African Murder Trial

oscar pistorius
Oscar Pistorius claims that he accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend on Feb. 14, 2013.

Oscar Pistorius will soon learn his fate for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013. Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa is scheduled to render a verdict Sept. 11, and the ruling can go several ways.

The prosecution wants Pistorius to be found guilty of premeditated murder. Such a conviction would land the Olympian a mandatory life sentence, which would force him to serve at least 25 years in prison. The judge will hand down such a ruling if she believes Pistorius planned to kill Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old has done his best to convince the judge he didn’t know he was shooting his girlfriend, saying he believed it was an intruder on the other side of the bathroom door. Some evidence indicates Pistorius was well aware of what he was doing, and he may have hurt his case by testifying.

“The fact that the defendant testified is a large piece of evidence that stands out, and will go one way or another in his favor or out of it,” famed defense attorney Barry Slotnick told International Business Times. "He may have caused his own conviction by taking the witness stand.”

Throughout the trial, the double-amputee has been unable to compose himself. Not only did he cry while testifying, he also cried during the testimony of an expert witness, vomiting at the details of Steenkamp’s death. Whether his emotions are real or contrived, his behavior could help put him in prison.

“I think that if anything, the histrionics that appeared before the judge may offend [Masipa],” Slotnick said. “I don’t think any of those actions worked before a judge. They might impress jury members, but you’re talking about a judge who tries cases all the time. And I think that whatever the purpose of the histrionics was, it only came out to be one thing -- he’s faking.”

Even if he’s not found guilty of planning to kill Steenkamp, he could still be imprisoned for murder. Such a verdict would likely mean Masipa doubted Pistorius was unaware he was shooting at his girlfriend, but, rather, his decision came in a fit of rage. Having no thoughts of killing Steenkamp before grabbing his gun could save him some jail time.

A murder conviction could send Pistorius to prison for at least 15 years, though the penalty is up to the judge’s discretion. The possibility Pistorius thought Steenkamp was still in bed could help him avoid a murder conviction.

A culpable homicide conviction could be in store for Pistorius even if he convinces the judge he thought he was shooting at an intruder. Being negligent in his use of the gun, no matter who was in the bathroom, could put Pistorius in jail. Such a ruling would keep him in jail for no more than 15 years.

The evidence against Pistorius is damning. There’s no denying he killed Steenkamp, and his testimony contained a few inconsistencies. Still, there’s a chance he could be found innocent and acquitted of all charges. As a double-amputee who is living in an area with a high crime rate, Pistorius has reason to be fearful of a break-in.

"The judge has no choice but to consider the fact that he’s in this weakened position and he’s afraid,” Slotnick said. “And there’s good reason for fear.”

Aside from the charges related to Steenkamp’s death, Pistorius could be convicted of lesser crimes. He’s been charged with firing a gun in public, both at a restaurant and in a car. Each charge could send him to jail for a possible five years.

Pistorius faces an illegal ammunition charge, as well.

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