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Oscar Pistorius Guilty Of Culpable Homicide In Girlfiend's Death

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. The former Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty in the killing of his girlfriend. He shot her in his apartment in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year. His trial has captivated South Africans and much of the world. It has been compared to the O.J. Simpson murder trial in this country 20 years ago. And let's listen to a little bit of the judge describing her ruling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOKOZILE MASIPA: The accused is found not guilty and is discharged. Instead he's found guilty of culpable homicide.

INSKEEP: OK, let's explain that a little bit. He was acquitted of actual murder, but was found guilty of the killing in the shooting. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been following the case. She's on the line. And, Ofeibea, what does this verdict mean?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Depending on who you are, great news, but for many, many South Africans, very bad news. And this is a country that has a high level of violence. Now, although Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of premeditated murder, and that is what the prosecution was trying to prove, he has been found guilty of culpable homicide - or manslaughter, whichever way you want to put it - and that carries a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison, down to a suspended sentence. So many people in South Africa now are saying that the judge, Thokozile Matilda Masipa, who says she listened to all sides - they feel that she's made the wrong choice. But they hope that even though Oscar Pistorius has been cleared of murder charges that he will go to prison.

But the judge said that the prosecution's case was not water-tight. They did not prove that Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, intentionally through that locked bathroom door.

INSKEEP: Now, this is fascinating because there's no doubt - right? - that he did shoot her through the door. The question was, what was in his mind? What was in his motivation? There had been all kinds of testimony about difficulties in their relationship before the shooting. But is it correct to say the judge simply disregarded that, said she couldn't trust any of that information?

QUIST-ARCTON: She said that the witnesses - the prosecution witnesses were unreliable. What they - ear-witnesses, rather than eye-witnesses - what they heard was not reliable. Some people said they heard a woman screaming. Some people said they heard what sounded like a cricket bat against a door. She dismissed that.

Now, the prosecution's case because they have this fiery prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, seemed at the beginning to be proving that Oscar Pistorius had a fetish for guns. He had this obsession with firearms. They gave several cases.

But the judge seems to have gone with the version of Pistorius and his defense team. And he has always said that being a vowed liberal man, this double-amputee athlete, the Blade Runner, as they call him, that when he heard the noises, he felt vulnerable. And that is when he picked up the firearm and shoot. He thought there was an intruder in the house. He swore that he did not intend to kill Reeva Steenkamp.

INSKEEP: Ofeibea, we've just got a few seconds here. But you said something about South Africa having a history of violence. Are you alluding to some concern about the reaction this verdict?

QUIST-ARCTON: No, more the issue of gun control. As in the U.S., you have people saying that there are too many small arms in South Africa and that if people didn't have them, if there had been a quarrel or an argument, they wouldn't use them. They would shout instead of using a gun...

INSKEEP: OK.

QUIST-ARCTON: ...Picking up a gun to shoot someone dead.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the guilty verdict for Oscar Pistorius. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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