A South African appellate court on Thursday convicted Oscar Pistorius of murder, overturning a lower court’s conviction of the double-amputee Olympian on the lesser charge of manslaughter for fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.
Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Lorimer Eric Leach delivered the ruling by the five-judge tribunal in Bloemfontein and directed the North Gauteng High Court to impose a sentence. He did not specify when that would happen.
“The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder on the basis that he had fired the fatal shots with criminal intent,” Leach said in the courtroom.
A 15-year prison sentence is the minimum punishment for murder in South Africa. However, the law allows for a lesser sentence in exceptional circumstances.
The former track star is currently under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria, South Africa. He was placed under house arrest in October after serving one year in prison. Pistorius had been sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter and got out early in line with correctional services department regulations. The trial court can also consider whether he should be shown leniency because he is disabled and is a first-time offender.
Pistorius, 29, killed Steenkamp in the early morning of Valentine’s Day. He said that he thought there was an intruder behind the door of a toilet cubicle in his home. The prosecution said Pistorius shot Steenkamp during an argument.
Leach said regardless of who might have been behind the door, Pistorius should have known someone could be killed if he fired.
“The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt,” the judge said.
Under the concept of “dolus eventualis” in South African law, a person can be convicted of murder if he or she knows that an action could cause someone’s death, but he or she does it anyway.
Steenkamp’s mother, June, sat quietly in the courtroom during the announcement, which was shown live on television. Pistorius was not there.
Steenkamp’s father, Barry, told South African television channel ANN7 that he was relieved by the judgment and described it as fair.
"Let us now all get on with our lives," he said. His voice breaking with emotion, he said of his daughter: “I’m sure she’ll be able to rest as well now.”
The Pistorius family said in a statement that it had taken note of the judgment. “The legal team will study the finding, and we will be guided by them in terms of options going forward,” the statement said.
A date for the former athlete’s new sentencing will be announced in Pretoria, where he had been tried and imprisoned.