Bloemfontein – The Supreme Court of Appeal has replaced Oscar Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction with murder, ruling that he should have foreseen the deadly impact his four bullets would have in a small bathroom.
"He fired four shots through the door and he never offered an acceptable explanation... he fired not one, but four shots... that is exactly what the accused did," said Justice Eric Leach.
"I have no doubt that in firing the fatal shots, the accused... did foresee that whoever was behind that toilet door might die."
He is guilty of murder and the matter is referred back to trial court to decide sentencing.
Leach told a packed court it was a unanimous judgment that he should be found guilty of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
He described the High Court ruling finding Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide as a "fundamental error".
"The trial misdirected itself as to the appropriate issue," said Leach.
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He said the trial court made an error in law in applying the principles of dolus eventualis (perpetrators forseeing the risk of death occurring but nevertheless proceeds with the act).
Turning to the circumstantial evidence, Leach said it was crucial evidence in the trial and could not be ignored, including testimony by the police's ballistics expert Chris Mangena.
"There had effectively been nowhere for the deceased to hide."
It was in the interest of justice to set aside the conviction of culpable homicide on count 1.
The SCA’s ruling comes almost three years after Pistorius shot dead Steenkamp, later stating he mistook her for an intruder. He fired four shots into the bathroom door of his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
After a gruelling trial in the North Gauteng High Court, Judge Thokozile Masipa found him guilty of culpable homicide and not murder.
At the time, she said in her ruling: “There is no basis for this court to make the inference that the accused wanted to kill the deceased.... The conduct of the accused shortly after the incident is inconsistent with someone who had wanted to commit murder."
Masipa ruled that Pistorius could not have foreseen that “either the deceased or anyone else for that matter” might have been killed when he fired shots at the door.
The State appealed his conviction, arguing that Pistorius was guilty of murder with indirect intent.
Pistorius did not attend the one-day SCA hearing in Bloemfontein in November as he was under correctional supervision at his uncle’s Pretoria home.
His fate now hangs in the balance.
Technically, the SCA could decide to hear argument on an appropriate sentence, according to criminal law expert William Booth.
He said the SCA could also refer the matter back to the trial court to decide on an appropriate sentence.
The former Paralympian faces at least 15 years in jail for murder. His defence team could prove that substantial and compelling circumstances exist to deviate from the minimum sentence.
He has already served a sixth of his five-year sentence, and was released from prison on October 19. He recently reported to a nearby police station for community service as part of his sentence.
At the end of November, he celebrated his 29th birthday in Pretoria. His aunt Lois Pistorius tweeted a photo showing a smiling Pistorius sitting in the sun in summer attire, surrounded by young children.