Oscar Pistorius: How the Verdict Will be Delivered

The verdict on whether Oscar Pistorius intentionally killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is expected to take hours, maybe days. And if there are any convictions on the four charges he faces sentences will only be decided later at a separate hearing.

Updated: September 10, 2014 17:24 IST
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Oscar Pistorius crying
File photo: Oscar Pistorius outside the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa on April 14, 2014.

© AP

Johannesburg: Guilty or not guilty? The verdict in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial will not be delivered so simply.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will first recount and analyze the evidence given by each of the nearly 40 witnesses in the criminal case that captured considerable international attention. The verdict on whether Pistorius intentionally killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is expected to take hours, maybe days.

And if there are any convictions on the four charges Pistorius faces - murder and three unrelated firearm charges - sentences will only be decided later at a separate hearing.

Here's a look at how it might unfold.


Because South Africa has no trial by jury, Judge Masipa must show why she and her two legal assessors reached their decision on each count. The process will likely take most of Thursday's court session and might run into Friday.

The judge will give a summary of the testimony of all 37 witnesses. Masipa will then give her assessment of each witness - including Pistorius - and what was accepted or rejected from their testimony. Then, she will give a summary of her own findings based on how she interpreted the evidence and how it ties in with the law. Finally, she will pronounce Pistorius guilty or not guilty on the charges: Murder, two charges of unlawfully shooting a gun in public in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition. (Also Read: Book to Tell Pistorius Story)

Pistorius will likely be asked to stand while the judgment is read out.


Murder: If Pistorius is convicted of murder - of intentionally killing Steenkamp - the judge will explain if she found it was with premeditation, as prosecutors argue, or not. There is a longer prison term for premeditated or pre-planned murder.

Culpable homicide: If Pistorius is acquitted of murder, which he pleaded not guilty to, he still faces a culpable homicide or negligent killing charge even though it isn't on the indictment. That's because the double-amputee Olympic runner shot Steenkamp and must also be judged on whether he acted negligently in her death, even if it's found he didn't intend to kill her.

Acquitted: Pistorius could be acquitted of both murder and culpable homicide if the judge finds he had no intention to kill and also acted reasonably.


If convicted, Pistorius would likely remain free on bail until sentencing because he has been out on bail during the trial, legal expert Marius du Toit said. However, that's not guaranteed and the judge could order Pistorius be taken into custody. A defendant's bail expires on conviction, meaning Masipa must make a new ruling on bail if Pistorius is convicted.


If there is any conviction, prosecutors and Pistorius' defense lawyers will have the chance to present witnesses in a separate sentencing hearing before Masipa decides if and how long Pistorius goes to prison. In what amounts to a second trial, prosecutors could call members of Steenkamp's family, maybe her mother and father, to testify for sentencing. Defense lawyers might call psychiatrists to argue for a lighter sentence.

Premeditated murder calls for a life sentence in prison with a minimum of 25 years before the chance of parole in South Africa, which does not have the death penalty. Murder without pre-planning has a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Culpable homicide has five years if a gun is used, but this can be increased or decreased depending on circumstances. For example, the fact that Pistorius fired multiple times into a small space and didn't fire a warning shot first could count against him.

The three unrelated firearm charges Pistorius faces usually carry fines or suspended sentences on conviction.


Du Toit said an appeal is "extremely likely" and predicts that Pistorius would probably appeal if he is given any jail time. An appeal can only happen after sentencing. Pistorius could appeal against a conviction, against a sentence, or against both. The possibility is one of the reasons why Judge Masipa must be so thorough in the verdict she reads out on Thursday.

"The appeal courts start by reading her judgment," Du Toit said.

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