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Oscar Pistorius convicted of murder: Key excerpts from appeal court judgment

Oscar Pistorius convicted of murder: Key excerpts from appeal court judgment

03/12/2015 at 09:59Updated 03/12/2015 at 10:39

South African authorities have published the full text of the judgment from the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein which changed Oscar Pistorius's conviction from culpable homicide to murder.

The conclusions reached unanimously by the panel of five judges paints a chilling picture of the tragedy before reaching its conclusion that, "On a proper conspectus of all the evidence, the trial court ought to have found that the accused had been guilty of murder and not culpable homicide, and that his defence of putative private defence could not be sustained."

The cold language of that summary at the top of the judgement gives way to a more empathic view of a horrendous crime which shocked the world.

"This case involves a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions," reads the judgement.

"A young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete; in doing so he becomes an international celebrity; he meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model; romance blossoms; and then, ironically on Valentine’s Day, all is destroyed when he takes her life."

But that human note gives way at times to a brutally frank discussion of the facts, not least in the passages relating to Pistorius's evidence, and his trustworthiness as a witness.

"His version varied substantially," wrote Justice Eric Leach.

"At the outset he stated that he had fired the four shots ‘before I knew it’ and at a time when he was not sure if there was somebody in the toilet. This soon changed to a version that he had fired as he believed that whoever was in the toilet was going to come out to attack him.

"He later changed this to say that he had never intended to shoot at all; that he had not fired at the door on purpose and that he had not wanted to shoot at any intruder coming out of the toilet.

" "In the light of these contradictions, one really does not know what his explanation is for having fired the fatal shots, an issue to which I shall revert in due course. There were other inherent improbabilities in his version, some of which were mentioned by the trial court in its judgment.""

Pistorius had already been panned as a witness by the trial judge, however, and in the end it was errors in interpretation of law which did for the Blade Runner's hopes of remaining a free man.

"A reasonable person in the same circumstances would have foreseen the reasonable possibility that the shots fired at the door of the toilet might kill whoever was in the toilet," the judgment continued.

"Furthermore, the [original] finding that the accused had not subjectively foreseen that he would kill whoever was behind the door and that if he had he intended to do so he would have aimed higher than he did, conflates the test of what is required to establish dolus directus with the assessment of dolus eventualis.

" The issue was not whether the accused had as his direct objective the death of the person behind the door. What was required in considering the presence or otherwise of dolus eventualis was whether he had foreseen the possible death of the person behind the door and reconciled himself with that event. "

"The conclusion of the trial court that the accused had not foreseen the possibility of death occurring as he had not had the direct intent to kill, shows that an incorrect test was applied."

Leach also rejected the original finding that Pistorius was innocent of murder because he believed that it was an intruder and not Steenkamp behind the door.

"In this regard, it is necessary to stress that although a perpetrator’s intention to kill must relate to the person killed, this does not mean that a perpetrator must know or appreciate the identity of the victim.

" A person who causes a bomb to explode in a crowded place will probably be ignorant of the identity of his or her victims, but will nevertheless have the intention to kill those who might die in the resultant explosion...

"What was in issue, therefore, was not whether the accused had foreseen that Reeva might be in the cubicle when he fired the fatal shots at the toilet door but whether there was a person behind the door who might possibly be killed by his actions. The accused’s incorrect appreciation as to who was in the cubicle is not determinative of whether he had the requisite criminal intent."

Leach also discussed the ballistics evidence which was not adequately considered, concluding that, "all the shots fired through the door would almost inevitably have struck a person behind it. There had effectively been nowhere for the deceased to hide...

"All of this was circumstantial evidence crucial to a decision on whether the accused, at the time he fired the fatal four shots, must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, the potentially fatal consequences of his action. And yet this evidence was seemingly ignored by the trial court in its assessment of the presence of dolus eventualis."

Leach also deconstructed the defence team's claims that Pistorius fired in an agitated state without considering the consequences.

"The argument appears to have been that in the circumstances that prevailed, the accused may well have fired without thinking of the consequences of his actions. In my view this cannot be accepted.

"On his own version, when he thought there was an intruder in the toilet, the accused armed himself with a heavy calibre firearm loaded with ammunition specifically designed for self-defence, screamed at the intruder to get out of his house, and proceeded forward to the bathroom in order to confront whoever might be there.

"He is a person well trained in the use of firearms and was holding his weapon at the ready in order to shoot. He paused at the entrance to the bathroom and when he became aware that there was a person in the toilet cubicle, he fired four shots through the door. And he never offered an acceptable explanation for having done so.

" As a matter of common sense, at the time the fatal shots were fired, the possibility of the death of the person behind the door was clearly an obvious result. And in firing not one, but four shots, such a result became even more likely. But that is exactly what the accused did..."

"In these circumstances I have no doubt that in firing the fatal shots the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life. This constituted dolus eventualis on his part, and the identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt."

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