One of the possible charges Oscar Pistorius could have been found guilty of is common-law murder, and the BBC helpfully explain what this means and why , according to the Judge, he was acquitted of that charge.
He could also have been convicted of a lesser charge of murder, if he had unlawfully intended to kill in the heat of the moment but without “malice aforethought”. This could have covered either shooting at the door intending to kill, or knowing someone might be killed and still firing a gun. This would also apply if he had intended to kill an intruder but had instead killed his girlfriend. But judge Masipa also dismissed this, saying: “The accused had the intention to shoot at the person behind the door, not to kill – the evidence failed to prove the accused had intention.” She also said the prosecution had not proven that he “accepted the possibility of killing someone” when he fired a gun four times through the toilet door.
Bold highlights are mine.
I’m probably not alone in thinking that if you point a gun at someone and fire it four times, you are probably intending to kill them. In this respect the law as stated above seems a little daft since there seems to be no way to prove intent when the shooting is ‘in the heat of the moment’. All it takes is for the shooter to say “I didn’t mean to shoot them, I was just trying to scare them, I didn’t mean to actually hit them”. How could you prove that’s not the case? Given that, I have to agree with the judge that the prosecution didn’t prove intent, and in fact, given the circumstances, couldn’t possibly prove it. Even if there had been no door in the way, they would have had a hard time proving he intended to kill if he denied it, unless there was some other definitive evidence to the contrary.
The other part of the law mentioned by the BBC seems to be relevant. Pistorious had firearms training, and video evidence showed that he clearly knew his way around guns. I find it very difficult to believe that someone with that knowledge, that experience of firearms, would not have thought that firing through a thin door might kill the person behind it. As legal expert professor Pierre de Vos tweeted
“Not sure rejection of dolus eventualis is correct here. Surely if you shoot into a door of a small toilet and know somebody behind door you foresee and accept possibility of killing?”
That pretty much sums up my thoughts, I’ve fired live rounds from both a 9mm handgun and an AR15 assault rifle and even with that limited experience, I would certainly know that if I fired a handgun into a normal household door, there is a very good chance that anyone standing behind it could be hit, and might be killed. Someone who has a handgun in their home by choice would know the same. Of course, the evidence can only show that he *should* have known, and he can always claim that in the heat of the moment, he forgot. Even if that were the case, should that lessen his responsibility?