Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-leg amputee runner who shot his girlfriend last year, has been found guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter). Pistorius claims he thought his girlfriend was an intruder trying to break into the house through the bathroom window. Judge Thokozile Masipa rendered a guilty verdict, but ruled that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius intended to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
In a blog dedicated to constitutional law, Cape Town University's Professor Pierre de Vos said he isn't surprised that the court didn't find Oscar Pistorius guilty of premeditated murder. He explained:
Although Judge Masipa highlighted several “peculiar” aspects of the case (for example, why did Pistorius pump 4, instead of 1, shots through the toilet door?), she found that the evidence produced to try and prove the “premeditated murder” of Reeva Steenkamp was almost exclusively circumstantial.
It would be difficult to convict somebody for murdering his girlfriend merely because the state produced evidence that they had fought on Whatsapp and (contradictory) evidence that neighbours heard them fighting on the night of the killing.
The high-water mark of the state’s case in this regard was the questions raised about how likely it would have been for Pistorius not to notice that Steenkamp was no longer in bed when he grabbed his gun and proceeded to the bathroom. But as the onus falls on the state to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, it is not surprising that the judge found that there was not sufficiently evidence to convict Pistorius of murdering Steenkamp in a premeditated manner.
However, the judge also found that Pistorius could not be convicted of murder for killing who he had claimed he believed was an “intruder” locked in the toilet.
In South African law it is not a valid defence to claim that you did not have the intention to kill X because you had in fact intended to kill Y and had killed X by mistake. Thus if Pistorius had intended to kill an intruder (and not Reeva Steenkamp), he would still be guilty of murder as long as the state had proven beyond reasonable doubt that he had intended to kill the person behind the door whom he might (or might not) have thought to be an intruder.
According to Data Drive Insights, the trial is the biggest social media event in South Africa's history, producing an estimated 3.5 million tweets since Reeva Steenkamp's murder in February 2013.
Most Twitter users seem to be responding to the verdict with anger or shock. Pistorius's conviction on a lesser charge comes on the heels of a 77-year sentence handed down to a rhino poacher in July, and some on Twitter have wondered if Pistorius might have received the maximum prison term, if his victim had been a rhinoceros.
@GerrieNel If Reeva was a rhino, #OscarPistorius would have been found guilty and probably got a maximum sentence long ago! #OscarTrial
— Archibald Philiso (@bleqprinx1982) September 12, 2014
South African rhino poacher jailed for 77 years http://t.co/yNJe2rPhMS – #OscarPistorius will get maximum of 10 years for murder. Hmmm….
— Reda Albodour (@RedaAlB) September 12, 2014
Twitter users have also drawn attention to Judge Masipa's own admission that Pistorius lied on the stand:
Then after practically saying #oscarpistorius was an untruthful withness, she then aquits him BASED on dat very poor evidence. #Madness
— D (@wukster) September 11, 2014
For anyone wondering what this (joke of a) verdict means for @OscarPistorius, he'll be sentenced to about 8 years and serve 2-4. Ridiculous.
— Harry Staniforth (@HarryStani) September 12, 2014
“it's highly unlikely that Oscar pistorius will go to jail ” Well, How is that justice?! I bet if it was an average Joe they'd be screwed
— Luke Anderson (@JustLukeyA) September 12, 2014
Some believe that Pistorius’ wealth and celebrity status unfairly influenced the court's decision:
Oscar Pistorius. No surprises yet. Wealth has kept him a “free” man to this point. Sentencing could be an insult to value of “life”
— Dwain Reid (@DwainReid) September 12, 2014
Oscar Pistorius verdict is bull, the guy should be done for murder. Famous athletes always seem to be treated more leniently. Don't like it.
— Daenerys Targaryen (@mindironalia) September 12, 2014
This days in South Africa,only poor people go to jail,gone are the days where no1 was above the law,money talks #OscarPistorius_Trial
— Delco Gerald (@delcogerald) September 12, 2014
Bec Murton imagined Reeva's final moments:
Imagine how #ReevaSteenkamp felt terrified in her bathroom right before #OscarPistorius shot her. How did that man get off #PristoriusTrial
— Bec Murton (@BecMurton) September 12, 2014
Not everyone on Twitter, of course, is against the verdict or the athlete.
Watching the @OscarPistorius updates I know a lot of people think he murdered Reeva but I do believe it was a tragic accident #tragic #sad
— PrettyPartyThings (@prettypartybits) September 12, 2014
Some may hate me for saying this but i truly believe that#OscarPistorius didnt mean or want to kill #Reeva… He's still a sporting hero!
— NickIsSoNotCool (@itsNickBarwick) September 12, 2014
This being the Internet, more than a few reactions displayed a sense of humor:
After this trial, Oscar Pistorius should go into acting (you can take classes in jail) and Judge Masipa should write drama #OscarTrial
— Elnathan John (@elnathan) September 12, 2014
One user joked about Louis Van Gaal, the current manager of football team Manchester United:
Cc @Mr_SoLso. @_arsenal__news: BREAKING: Louis Van Gaal has travelled to South Africa to try and sign the Oscar Pistorius defense team..
— Tunde (@AliuBabatunde) September 12, 2014
Lingerie model Rhian Sugden shared some advice for women:
Girls… from now on always do your number ones and number twos with the bathroom door open! [Reeva was shot behind the toilet's closed door] #OscarPistorius
— Rhian Sugden (@Rhianmarie) September 11, 2014
Despite the conviction, some still consider Pistorius an inspiration:
Right or Wrong with #OscarPistorius it don't take away how much of a inspiration of an athlete he was to compete at that level given injury!
— Craig Monaghan (@craig_monaghan) September 12, 2014
Oscar Pistorius is going away for a few years, what an inspiration for many millions of people with disabilities.
— Steafan Byrne (@steafanbyrne) September 12, 2014
Writing for the British charity group Womankind Worldwide, Bethan Cansfield said she hopes the verdict, along with the media attention in the United States over American football player Ray Rice being caught on typing punching his now-wife, will lead to a debate about violence against women:
We live in a world where 38% of all women who have been murdered were murdered by their intimate partners; we can only hope that the attention of the Ray Rice case and Pistorius verdict leads to a serious debate on how we end violence against women and girls for good.
In 2009, Cansfield points out, the South African Medical Research Council found that a woman is killed by her intimate partner every 8 hours in South Africa. With so much attention on the Pistorius case, it's now high time for a better public conversation in South Africa and elsewhere about violence against women.