Sept. 15 (GIN)—The decision by Judge Thokozile Masipa that found Olympian Oscar Pistorius not guilty of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, stunned South Africans, who had been glued to the trial since the gavel first pounded the court to order last March.
Saying that Pistorius’ defense could “reasonably possibly be true,” Masipa lifted the charge of murder but convicted him of culpable homicide (manslaughter), a lesser charge that could bring up to 15 years behind bars. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit by the victim’s parents is still in the cards.
Pistorius always maintained that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her four times. But speaking to “ITV News” after the verdict, her parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, said they did not believe his account of that night. June Steenkamp said of the judge’s ruling, “We were shocked. Shocked. Disappointed. You know your heart drops because you just want the truth. It’s going in the wrong direction. That’s how you feel.”
Although the sitting judge was Black and the defendant was white, the verdict ripped open old wounds of unequal justice that favored defendants with blue chip lawyers, whose cases are speedily heard rather than left lagging for months or years before being called to court.
“Since the trial began, we’ve watched and waited and hoped for justice,” wrote Roxane Gay in the Guardian newspaper. “Given the facts of the case, it was a bit surreal to imagine an outcome where justice would not be served, where a man can justify shooting an unarmed woman through a locked bathroom door. Then again, this is also a world where an armed police officer can shoot an unarmed young Black man. Whether in South Africa or Ferguson, Missouri, the rules most of us live by hardly seem to apply to white men.”
Gay continued, “What makes this all the more offensive is how Pistorius essentially framed his defense as a fear of Blackness. By evoking an unseen intruder, he exploited the complex and fraught racial history of South Africa to help justify his crime.”
Pistorius, who says he plans to write a book and is free to race for his country despite being a convicted killer, will return for sentencing Oct. 13. An appeal by the National Prosecuting Authority is under consideration.