A South African appeals court on Thursday ruled that Oscar Pistorius, the disgraced Paralympian star, was guilty of murder, overturning a previous conviction of culpable homicide for shooting his model girlfriend.
The decision means the double-amputee, who rose to global fame at the 2012 London Olympics, could now face a minimum of 15 years in jail.
Reading the appeals court’s judgment, Justice Eric Leach was highly critical of the original judgment for ignoring circumstantial evidence and said Pistorius ought to have been found “guilty of murder on the basis that he fired the shots with criminal intent”.
“As a result of the errors of law referred to and on a proper appraisal of the facts he ought to have been convicted not of culpable homicide . . . but of murder,” he said.
He said the matter should be sent back to the trial court for fresh sentencing.
Pistorius was released on house arrest in October, a year after Judge Thokozile Masipa sentenced him to five years in prison after acquitting him of murder and instead finding him guilty of culpable homicide, which is similar to manslaughter.
Pistorius fired his 9mm pistol four times through the locked door of a bathroom in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013, killing Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate.
The athlete — who was dubbed the “Blade Runner” — has always insisted that he mistakenly believed there was an intruder in his home and the shooting at his house in Pretoria was a tragic accident.
Pistorius’s original acquittal on murder charges rested heavily on Judge Masipa’s conclusion that he genuinely believed an intruder was in the house at the time of the shooting and felt that he and Steenkamp were at risk.
But prosecutors argued that Judge Masipa had made legal errors, saying her judgment ignored important circumstantial evidence that make Pistorius’s version of events impossible.
Judge Leach said that in light of the contradictory statements given by Mr Pistorius at the trial “one really does not know what his explanation is for having fired the fatal shots . . . there were other inherent improbabilities in his version”.
During the original trial, the prosecution portrayed Pistorius as a self-centred, short-tempered gun enthusiast who was at times economical with the truth and who changed his version of events on the night of Steenkamp’s death.
The appeal was based on a question around the legal principle of “dolus eventualis” — effectively whether he had acted with intent when he fired the shots into the toilet knowing he would threaten the life of whoever was behind the door.
“There had effectively been nowhere for the deceased to hide,” Judge Leach said, adding that in firing the shots Mr Pistorius must have foreseen he was “gambling” with a life.