PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA —
The Oscar Pistorius trial adjourned Friday in South Africa, after the judge absolved the star runner 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 "blade runner" for his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs, who killed girlfriend and model Reeva Steenkamp at his home last year.
Masipa said prosecutors failed to prove Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder, explaining he "cannot be found guilty of murder" with intent, but that another charge, culpable homicide, could be a "competent verdict."
Pistorius shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door at his home on February 14, 2013. Prosecutors say he acted intentionally; Pistorius said he thought he was firing at a nighttime intruder.
“I am convinced he acted too hastily and used excessive force — it is clear that his conduct was negligent. I will have to stop here," said Masipa, concluding an hours’ long legal analysis — the most she has spoken during the entire trial — recited in her even-keeled tone.
In contrast to Masipa, Pistorius sat stoically as events of that night were recounted, but he began to weep as the judge spoke of Steenkamp's fatal injuries. He continued to cry as she winnowed down the arguments of both sides, cutting to what she said was the heart of this case.
"The issues are limited to whether, at the time the accused shot and killed the deceased, he had the requisite intention, and if so, whether there was any premeditation."
Avoiding the charge of premeditated murder would spare Pistorius a possible prison sentence of 25 years or more, while a guilty judgment of culpable homicide could carry a sentence of at least five years.
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.
Judge Masipa said Pistorius understood the difference between right and wrong, and that his testimony contradicted the contention that he was acting in self-defense.
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.
The verdict will not be official until she formally pronounces it Friday with Pistorius standing to hear it.
Pistorius rose to fame in the London 2012 Games, where he debuted as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.