Criminal Justice

Oscar Pistorius was guilty of murder, rather than manslaughter, appeals court finds

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A South African appeals court has overturned Oscar Pistorius’ manslaughter conviction and found that he is instead guilty of murder.

The track star faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison as a result of the ruling Thursday, the New York Times and the Guardian report.

Pistorius had been found guilty of culpable homicide—the equivalent of manslaughter—in the 2013 shooting death of his girlfriend, law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius said he mistook her for an intruder when he fired a gun though a locked bathroom door.

The appeals court opinion (PDF) said the trial judge had misapplied the legal principle of dolus eventualis. Applied to the type of murder charged, the principle holds that someone has the requisite intent if he knows his actions could lead to the killing of a person but persists in the conduct.

The trial judge apparently believed it was necessary to find that Pistorius foresaw his actions would kill a specific person—his girlfriend, the appeals court said. The proper inquiry was not whether Pistorius had foreseen Steenkamp might be behind the door, but rather whether he persisted in his conduct while foreseeing a risk of death, the court said.

Pistorius was originally sentenced to five years in prison, then allowed to serve the last four years of his sentence on house arrest. The appeals court ordered a new sentence.

Pistorius could appeal to the Constitutional Court, but it is unclear whether the court would find the case within its jurisdiction, legal experts told the Times.

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