Lawyers of Oscar Pistorius battle to avoid murder charges

  • AFP, Bloemfontein (South Africa)
  • Updated: Nov 03, 2015 18:52 IST
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius looks on ahead of his sentencing hearing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, in this October 16, 2014 file photo. (REUTERS)

Oscar Pistorius’s lawyers on Tuesday fought to keep him from returning to jail as state prosecutors argued for a murder conviction in a combative appeal hearing held just two weeks after he was released.

The Paralympic sprinter was found guilty last year of culpable homicide -- a charge equivalent to manslaughter -- after shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

During sharp exchanges between his lawyer and the five judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, the killing was again re-lived in front of a packed courthouse that included Steenkamp’s mother June.

At the crux of the appeal was how the trial judge, Thokozile Masipa, interpreted the principle of dolus eventualis -- awareness of the likely outcome of an action -- under which she acquitted Pistorius of murder.

“(Judge Thokozile Masipa’s) analysis of dolus eventualis seems to me to be wrong,” Judge Eric Leach said.

“When he fired the bullets, did he know there was somebody behind the door?

“We’re talking about intent.”

Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux battled back, arguing that the original trial verdict could not be challenged on its factual findings.

“(The judge) was saying: ‘I cannot find it under dolus eventualis... because my factual finding is that when he fired the shots thinking it was an intruder he genuinely believed the deceased was in the bedroom’.

“He genuinely believed he was in danger and that’s why he fired.”

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius should be convicted of murder as he intentionally meant to kill whoever was behind the toilet door into which he fired four bullets.

“Firing through the door at torso level into a small cubicle... the foresight must be that someone would die,” Nel said.

The court concluded the appeal hearing before lunch, saying it reserved judgement on the case without giving a date when its decision would be announced.

House arrest

Pistorius, 28, was released on October 19 -- just one year into his five-year jail term -- to spend the remainder of his sentence under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria.

If he was found guilty of murder, he would face a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Pistorius, who has not been seen in public since his release, did not attend the hearing.

“I’m here to support Gerrie Nel and the team,” Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp, sitting in court, told AFP.

“We are saying he must stay in jail,” said Khosi Mojapi, a 33-year-old member of the African National Congress Women’s League, outside the court building.

“We say stop abusing women.”

A lone Pistorius supporter held a sign reading “Hands off Oscar Pistorius, Give Oscar Pistorius a break.”

“We need to ensure everybody gets a second chance at life,” said Tokelo Africa, wearing a white fedora and navy suit.

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