Oscar Pistorius Verdict Reading

4:15 am: Glad I stayed up for one more segment. The Judge has just rejected premeditated murder. The state failed to prove its case. She spent some time saying Oscar was a poor witness and not candid with the court, but said that isn't enough to conclude he's guilty. His testimony must be viewed in conjunction with all the evidence presented. Again, it's going to be not guilty of premeditated murder, but she's leaning towards guilt on culpable homicide. She has discretion in sentencing at that charge. Big loss for the arrogant, bellicose prosecutor. Huge win for the defense, blocking a life sentence.

2:55 am MT: Judge takes a half hour break. I'm done for the night, fairly confident that the Judge will find him not guilty of premeditated murder, having rejected most of the state's case. After finishing the issue of premeditation, she recounted Oscar's testimony and his conflicting statements which included that he did not shoot intentionally, he shot accidentally, and he shot unconsciously, without thinking. She doesn't buy his version, and cites him having released the safety mechanism and that he also said he fired because he thought someone was in the bathroom and might come out and attack him. It sounds like she will find him not guilty of the more serious premeditated murder charge and is moving onto his intent in shooting and the "culpable homicide" charge. It's not looking good for Oscar on the culpable murder charge -- it sounds like she thinks he could have foreseen that someone would be shot and killed even if that was not his intent, but she's not done yet. [More...]

2:39 am MT: Judge is back and again discounting witnesses as being wrong (not dishonest)about hearing a woman scream and confusing the sound of shots and a cricket bat. She finds Oscar's version consistent. Can Oscar's version reasonably and probably be true? She discounts the state's theory as to why Reeva took the cell phone into the toilet and says they are just speculation. She might have taken the phone into the bathroom for lighting. The testimony about their relationship being on the rocks and the testimony they were a loving couple are not proof of anything.

On the state's argument about food in her stomach: Not conclusive, experts disagree. Even if she did eat right before going to bathroom, there could be other reasons.

The witness who heard an argument was not persuasive. Another witness heard nothing untoward at the house at the time.

She is done with the state's case and now turns to the defense case, which she says she will go into in detail. (Interesting, considering that she said at the outset she didn't need to go into the state's case in detail. )

2:13 am MT: So far so good for Oscar. The judge says the neighbors' testimony of screams is not reliable. They weren't lying, just mistaken. She doesn't think they could differentiate between a man or woman screaming. They confused gunshots with the sounds of the cricket bat. The forensic testimony was that the decedent could not have screamed after she was shot, she was incapacitated. She discusses the media impact on the witnesses, the fact they discussed the case with other witnesses. They failed to separate what they heard personally from what they learned from other witnesses or from the media. The judge says it would be unwise to rely on the testimony of the neighbor witnesses. Memory fades over time. The court has the benefit of technological evidence which is more reliable than human testimony. The phone records are significant. The defense, not the state, analyzed the timeline. The state failed to present evidence to dispute the timeline set out by the defense. In analyzing the phone calls, she can determine the sequence of events. At 3:19, after the cricket bat at 3:17, he was on the phone to Stander, and a minute later, to security.

She refers to the testimony of Dr. Stipp and says he was mistaken about some things but did not tailor his testimony. She credits his testimony that Oscar tried to revive Reeva and was distressed.

She recites the rest of the timeline to determine the two issues in the case, which she says are: Whether at the time of the shooting Oscar had the intent to kill and whether there was premeditation.

Court takes a two minute break. From the reading so far, it does not sound like the judge will find premeditation. I was glad to hear her cite the fallibility of eye and ear witness testimony, and mention the state's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. She also seemed to be holding the state to its burden, in pointing out it failed to present an alternative timeline.

12:30 am MT: The media is seated in the courtroom, eagerly awaiting the reading of the Oscar Pistorius verdict. The prosecutor has arrived. The judge arrived two hours ago with a police escort and blaring sirens. One journalist says she's never seen such division among journalists about which way the verdict will go.

The Judge will begin her reading of the verdict with a summary of the facts. This part alone could take all day or go into a second day.

I'm going to watch for a while to see if I can discern which way the Judge is leaning from her summary of the facts.

I hope her summary will include not just the direct testimony of the state's witnesses, but the refutation of their testimony as brought out during cross-examination. If it's a one sided presentation, that will obviously be a poor omen for Oscar. If she includes the conflicting evidence, I think there's a chance she'll conclude the state's evidence doesn't amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It's not a test of who she believes more, but whether the the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

My view (if you haven't read my other posts on the trial) is that the state failed to prove murder. It claimed Oscar was lying and it presented its theory of what happened, but never proved it was anything other than a theory. It never proved Oscar lied -- at most he was mistaken on some details, which can easily be explained by the trauma of the events.

It's disheartening to see the "guilt sells" principle is as prevalent in South Africa as it is in the United States. There's a lot of guilt-mongering, particularly by people who made up their mind before the evidence was presented or solely on media reports. Considering South Africa, like the U.S., recognizes the presumption of innocence and requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it's shameful.

My recommendations for following on Twitter: Barry Bateman, Andrew Harding, Mandy Weiner.

Updates to follow at the top.

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    ... ROI Media Director Tonya Khoury expects Judge Thokozile Masipa's reading of her judgment to dominate world news from Thursday until the weekend:

    "We expect overnight and by the end of this week to see that particular spike really elevate once Judge Masipa hands over her judgment. We monitor over 200 million platforms; we monitor over 100 countries in our network and very frequently we see the USA coming to the top of the pile."

    Two thoughts: (1) I think that given her reputation, however Judge Masipa decides, the verdict will be accepted and considered fair. (2) Nobody revels in celebrity gossip and dirty laundry quite like us Americans. Oy.


    Judge Masipa has discounted ... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 03:19:21 AM EST
    ... the neighbors' testimony about screams due to distance and proximity, taking pains to note that they were not being dishonest, but were instead "genuinely mistaken" about what they heard. She accepts the defense's timeline of events surrounding the immediate moments before and after the shooting, and from my perspective, may be closing the door on the prosecution's contention that Reeva Steenkamp's killing was premeditated. (10:20 a.m. SAST)

    Judge asks for 2-min. break. (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 03:35:50 AM EST
    She's recounted a timeline of events based upon phone and technology records, and says that this will be the primary basis for her determination as to whether the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Steenkamp's killing was premeditated. Again, just my opinion, but I think she's accepted the defense's timeline of events, which pretty much shoots the state's contention full of holes. (No pun intended.)

    That said, she can still find the defendant guilty of culpable homicide, if she determines that his behavior on the night in question was unreasonable and in reckless disregard for human life.

    (10:30 a.m. SAST)


    Judge Masipa orders a half-hour break. (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 04:20:54 AM EST
    But before the break, she specifically took note of the defendant's various explanations of what happened that night, and finds his primary claim that the shooting was an accident because he fired "without thinking" to be wholly inconsistent with his subsequent claim that had he meant to kill the person behind the door, he would have aimed higher.

    Purely speculation on my part, but is Judge Masipa about to impugn Oscar Pistorius's credibility as a witness on his own behalf, and find his behavior that night tantamount to reckless indifference / disregard for human life? She may be defining the difference in this case between murder and culpable homicide.

    She's left us hanging. It's 11:10 p.m. HST out here, and I'm tired but I have to admit, this is really fascinating stuff. Judge Masipa is so matter-of-fact in her delivery, especially when one compares her to the bombast and theatrics of both counsels, that it actually underscores her diligence in trying to determine for the record what actually happened on the night in question. Clearly, she's cutting through the crap.

    (11:10 a.m. SAST)

    Ah, Jeralyn, I see you're still up. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 04:30:57 AM EST
    I wasn't paying any attention until now. Are we the only ones still awake to watch this drama unfold? I'll leave it to you to finish recounting My Lady's verdict. I don't think I'm going to last much longer, and I've got to be at Queen's Medical Center at 8:00 a.m. for my daily blast of radiation.

    This has been an education, and Judge Masipa is reaffirming my faith in the rule of law in South Africa. Aloha.

    I'm done for the night as well (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 04:33:10 AM EST
    Thanks for your updates, the rest can wait until morning.

    OP not guilty of premeditated murder. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 05:41:17 AM EST
    The Court also rejects the state's contention of dolis eventualis, and finds OP not guilty of the next possible charge, which is murder. But, Judge Masipa says, "culpable homicide is a competent verdict."

    Okay, I have a pretty good idea where this is going now. at 12:40 p.m. SAST, the Court is breaking for lunch, and so I'm calling it a night and breaking for bed.

    Good night, Jeralyn. Thanks for the analysis.

    Thanks for the live updates while the rest of (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Angel on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 07:56:43 AM EST
    us were sleeping, or trying to sleep in some cases.  :)  Good luck with your treatment today.

    The 20 Seconds By the Bathroom Door (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by RickyJim on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 08:16:21 AM EST
    Did the judge discuss the 20 seconds Oscar spent in front of the bathroom door shouting at the intruder?  That Oscar claims not to have heard a reply, neither from inside the bathroom nor the bedroom seems to me to be proof of premeditation.  He had to have known that Reeva was inside the bathroom.  And why would he go right up to the bathroom door if he was so frightened instead of putting on his prosthetics and waiting with Reeva in the bedroom, gun in hand?  

    I can see that a judge might come to the (5.00 / 0) (#11)
    by leftwig on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 10:26:22 AM EST
    conclusion that the state did not meet the burden necessary to prove pre-meditated murder, but some of her statements about how she came to that conclusion are odd. Thinks witnesses can't really attest to knowing the difference between gun shots and a bat hitting a door.  Thats not to say I don't think the witnesses had some issues given the distance from the event. I don't really see that there were any witnesses that backed OP's account which was sketchy at best, but without a clear "motive", murder was going to be difficult to prove.

    I wanted to hear a comment from the judge on the testimony of the night security at the complex who says they called OP after reports of screaming and gunshots and him telling them that everything was fine and hung up.  Then he called them back later and just cried.  I would say that was some of the most damning evidence against OP because even if you believe as the judge did that the arguing was actually OP crying out for help and that the gunshots were him hitting the door with the bat and finding Reeva behind it, how can you explain the statements to security that after all this, everything was fine?  At the very least, you would think he would have asked them for help and to call an ambulance.

    she said the timeline of phone calls proved (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 01:58:32 PM EST
    the witnesses mistook the the cricket bat for gunshots.

    She went through the timeline of the his calls to security guard and others exhaustively.


    The Oscar Verdict (none / 0) (#8)
    by Uncle Chip on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 07:22:31 AM EST
    Had you watched Judge Masipa ... (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 01:12:31 PM EST
    ... deliver the verdict, you wouldn't be saying that. Part of due process in South African law is that the judge(s) hearing the case must first establish in court what they determine to be the facts of the case, prior to any actual reading of the judgment.

    Had you heard Judge Masipa, you would've understood that not only did she and her two colleagues who assisted her listen intently to every single word of that trial, they didn't miss a trick. She addressed what every witness said, took due note of obvious contradictions, and expounded how she and her two colleagues arrived at their conclusions.

    (Under South African rules of trial procedure, Judge Masipa has sole discretion over interpretation and application of the law itself, while her two colleagues are present to assist her as the triers of fact, in determining the actual facts of the case before them.)

    When we noted that the Judge Masipa had established a timeline and chronology of that night's events based in phone and technology records, -- i.e., who called and / or texted whom, who called security, when security responded, etc. -- to be used as the basis for the verdict, I should further note that she did so down to the very second.

    And as she laid out that chronology in remarkably stark detail, it was soon very clear to anyone listening today that the defense's version of those swift-moving events corresponded to that timeline, while the prosecution's contentions quite obviously did not.

    Thus, as she stated forthrightly from the bench, the prosecution's case for premeditated murder was based entirely upon circumstantial evidence and their own conjecture. And in that regard, they failed to eastablish their case beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, finding the defendant not guilty of both premeditated murder and murder was an eminently fair and just verdict.

    Judge Masipa then turned to Mr. Pistorius's various statements to the authorities and his testimony from the stand, both under direct and cross examination, and it was readily apparent that she found his own version of events to be it grievously wanting at key points.

    Still, she said after noting the defendant's shifting explanations and misleading responses, it is not enough to conclude that because a defendant was either evasive or untruthful, therefore he should necessarily be found guilty of the crime for which he is charged. The actual facts of the case must also serve to underscore his dishonesty, and the two should dovetail. And this instance, they did not.

    Judge Masipa nevertheless took serious issue with the defendant's repeated claim that he neither knew nor realized what he was doing at the time of the shooting, which cuts to the heart of his actual culpability in the matter.

    She specifically noted his statements to police and under cross that had he wished to only scare off the intruder, he would've aimed higher, and found them to be contradictory to his underlying claim of not being in control of his own actions at the time of the shooting.

    She further said that the mental health examination Oscar Pistorius underwent during trial established that he absolutely knew right from wrong, and dismissed the defense's claim that the accused suffered from a "delayed startle response," by which events propelled his actions rather than vice versa.

    While acknowledging that the defendant's disability contributed to his enhanced sense of vulnerability, she also noted that many others in South Africa are disabled persons, and yet they don't quickly resort to firearms in the face of perceived threats.

    What she was doing here was establishing that the defendant's conduct that night was in reckless disregard for human life, which may well underscore any subsequent verdict tomorrow that he is guilty of culpable homicide, that is, manslaughter.

    The three attorneys and legal reporters who were watching the verdict in person today and blogging in real time all praised both Judge Masipa's meticulous attention to even the minutest detail, and her ability to cut through all the meringue whipped up by both the prosecution and defense counsels in order to get to the actual filling.

    Your snarky remark therefore compels me to ask, what trial were YOU watching?



    can you post the detailed timeline the judge (5.00 / 0) (#14)
    by leftwig on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 02:16:17 PM EST
    assembled?  I've yet to see one for the case.  For example, residents apparently called house security after hearing what they described as gunshots and screaming, then security supposedly called OP who said everything was fine and then he supposedly called back and just sobbed, saying nothing.  I've always been curious on the timeline of the accuracy of those calls.

    No, I can't provide her timeline of events. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 06:07:53 AM EST
    You'll have to look for a transcript of the proceeding. Judge Masipa discounted most of the neighbors' testimony as honestly offered but "genuinely mistaken," because they presented too many conflicting details and often contradicted one another. She said many of them resided too far away from the scene to be able to give an accurate recounting of what happened that night, and by using the timeline, showed that what several witnesses thought to be gunshots, was actually the cricket bat banging against the bathroom door.

    I didn't expect that you would provide (none / 0) (#19)
    by leftwig on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 09:32:46 AM EST
    the timeline.  I just kinda assumed if the judge was basing her judgment on a timeline that she says facts established, I'd like to know what facts she based that timeline on and I thought maybe she would have provided that information.  I didn't see her mention the call from the complex security to OP and their testimony on his response in her ruling on any of the murder charges.  I would have thought that point would have been important enough for her to address specifically, because I believe they were the first witnesses to talk directly to OP after the event.

    ... primarily on the multiple phone and technology records from that night, with which they then juxtaposed witness testimony and statements. The resulting chronology of events presented in court was very thorough and detailed.

    What trial??? (none / 0) (#15)
    by Uncle Chip on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 02:22:32 PM EST
    The trial that was reported on regularly on ABC, NBC, CBS and other stations.

    Did you see any of their coverage and presentation of the evidence and testimony???

    There is politics interwoven into all criminal proceedings nowadays and this case is no exception.

    Do you think that this case was decided solely on the evidence???


    Actually, the judge did base (none / 0) (#16)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Sep 11, 2014 at 07:11:28 PM EST
    her findings on her view of the evidence and law. She gave case cites. I don't think it was political.

    Thank you, Jeralyn. (none / 0) (#17)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 05:58:16 AM EST
    I don't think it was political, either. The defendant was a white Afrikaaner and the victim was a white Afrikaaner. The only hint of politics was outside the Pretoria courthouse yesterday, when the ANC Women's League held a rally in support of Reeva Steenkamp's family, calling for Oscar Pistorius's conviction for murder.

    Judge Masipa, who is Zulu, proved herself to be scrupulously impartial and eminently fair in both her conduct of the trial and in her deliberations. Further, she knew the whole world was watching, and in my opinion, she represented her country's judiciary well and the people of South Africa should be very proud of her. It is clear that the late President Nelson Mandela made a very wise decision with her appointment to the High Court back in 1998.

    I enjoyed blogging with you last night. This has been a fascinating case.