Pretoria: A South African judge on Thursday found that "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius was not guilty of the premeditated murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, dismissing the most serious of charges against him.
Oscar Pistorius. Pic/ AFP
"The state clearly has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of premeditated murder," Thokozile Masipa said, before dealing with lesser charges of murder or culpable homicide.
The 27-year-old sat in the dock bowed and burying his head in his hands after the finding was made. Pistorius was charged with one count of murder and three firearms offences over the killing on Valentine's Day 2013.
Judge Thokozile Masipa said Oscar Pistorius "took a conscious decision" to arm himself and shoot when he killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.
Also read: Timeline of Oscar Pistorius murder trial
"The accused clearly wanted to use the firearm," said Masipa, reading out her lengthy verdict, but said the intention to shoot does not necessarily include the intention to kill.
He could still be found guilty of culpable homicide, carrying anything from a suspended sentence to a lengthy prison stretch, or he could be acquitted.
A charge of premeditated murder would have meant a life sentence in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails.
High profile case
The verdict is the climax of a six-month murder trial that has cast a harsh spotlight on the fallen hero's private life.
Full of high drama, the trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts veering into the realm of TV reality shows.
During proceedings Pistorius has broken down, weeping and at times vomiting as he heard how the 29-year-old blonde's head "exploded" like a watermelon under the impact of his
On Thursday a man selling papers on a nearby street corner said he couldn't keep up with the demand. "Maybe you can come later," said Thomas Mdlule, the 29-year-old vendor,
rushing to count out change for his customers.
Thursday's verdict is unlikely to be the end of the case. There will be more courtroom arguments before a sentence is handed down and, most likely, an appeal to a higher court.
"The trial is the first leg of a multi-legged legal process. It's just the beginning," said lawyer David Dadic. Whatever happens, Pistorius's glittering sporting career is likely to be over.
Once a poster boy for disabled sport, he has been stripped of lucrative endorsement deals by global brands and has withdrawn from all competition.