A judge deciding Oscar Pistorius’ fate cast doubt on witness testimony Thursday as she prepared to deliver a verdict in his murder trial.
Pistorius’ trial started six months ago, transfixing the world with graphic details of how he fatally shot his supermodel girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Inside the courtroom, he trembled and cried as Judge Thokozile Masipa read from a large stack of white papers.
Masipa said she believes media coverage contaminated testimonies, and she doubted state witnesses, saying they were in and out of sleep the night of the killing on Valentine’s Day last year.
“Technology is more reliable than human perception and human memory,” she said, indicating she trusted technology more than witness memories.
She described the victim’s wound as “immediately incapacitating,” and said she believed a scream heard by witnesses the night of the killing was Pistorius,’ not Steenkamp’s.
The judge appeared to be accepting the defense time line of events that the shots came first, then screaming that must have been Pistorius.
She knocked down some aspects of the state’s case: the fact that Steenkamp took her phone and locked herself in the bathroom allegedly out of fear for her safety, phone messages between the couple that showed some rocky patches, and her stomach contents.
Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June Steenkamp, sat expressionless a few rows behind the man on trial for killing their daughter. Her father bowed his head as he heard about his daughter’s fatal wounds.
Of the additional three charges, the most serious one is related to ammunition found in his house when police searched it after the killing.
He did not have a proper license for it, but he maintains he was storing it in his safe for his father.
If he is found guilty of the ammunition charge, he could face up to 15 years in prison, though the judge could opt for a lesser punishment such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.
Two other charges are related to allegations that he recklessly fired a gun in public — once in a restaurant in 2012, and again out of the sunroof of a car last year. Pistorius denies both.
The maximum penalty for each charge is five years behind bars. If he is convicted of either, he could face a lesser sentence, such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.
If the judge finds him guilty of murder, she must then decide if it’s premeditated. A minimum sentence for premeditated murder is life. A minimum sentence for murder with no previous convictions is 15 years.
Pistorius argues he made a mistake and was trying to defend himself from an intruder. If Masipa accepts that as plausible, she will then have to decide if his mistake and his actions were reasonable.
If she says they were not, she’ll find him guilty of a crime called culpable homicide. There is no minimum sentence for culpable homicide in South African law — it’s up to the judge to decide.
And there’s one final possibility.
If the judge does not think the prosecution has proved its case, she will find him not guilty, and Pistorius will be a free man.
Masipa will make her decision with the assistance of two experts known as assessors.