A verdict is expected Friday in the trial of South African track star Oscar Pistorius, a day after the judge absolved him of all murder charges but indicated he could still be found guilty of homicide.
Judge Thokozile Masipa ended Thursday’s proceedings abruptly without issuing a formal verdict for Pistorius, the Olympic sprinter known as “the blade runner,” who killed girlfriend and model Reeva Steenkamp at his home last year.
Masipa said prosecutors failed to prove Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder. She said he “cannot be found guilty of murder” with intent, but that another lesser charge, culpable homicide, could be justified.
Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door at his home in February 2013. Prosecutors say he acted intentionally; Pistorius said he thought he was firing at a nighttime intruder.
Masipa said Thursday she believes the defendant acted too hastily and used excessive force when he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius sobbed as he listened to the judge read from her ruling in a Pretoria courtroom.
Avoiding the charge of premeditated murder would spare Pistorius a potential prison sentence of 25 years or more. If he is judged guilty of culpable homicide, he could face up to 15 years of prison time.
Discussing details of the 41-day trial, the judge said Steenkamp was killed “under very peculiar circumstances.” She also commented that court testimony did not make it possible to conclude anything about the state of the relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp at the time of the shooting.
South Africa does not have jury trials. Judge Masipa decided the case with the help of two legal assistants.
The 66-year-old jurist is only the second black woman to be appointed a high court judge in South Africa. She has a reputation for handing down stiff sentences in crimes against women.
Pistorius is known as the “blade runner” for his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. He was the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics, at the 2012 games in London.