PRETORIA, South Africa— Oscar Pistorius was found guilty Friday of a manslaughter charge that carries a potential penalty ranging from a fine up to 15 years in prison, capping a trial that chronicled the high life and swift fall of a disabled South African hero who shot and killed his girlfriend through a locked bathroom door.
In rendering her verdict, Judge Thokozile Masipa said Mr. Pistorius acted recklessly in firing four shots at what he thought was an intruder lurking in his bathroom. Three of those shots from a 9mm pistol—loaded with hollow point bullets that expand on impact—struck his girlfriend, 29-year old model Reeva Steenkamp. She died almost instantly.
“A reasonable person in possession of his faculties with a similar disability would have foreseen that possibility,” Ms. Masipa said as Mr. Pistorius, seated alone on a wooden bench in courtroom in the South African capital, listened impassively.
Friends of Ms. Steenkamp wept as the judge declared that prosecutors had failed to prove Mr. Pistorius set out to kill his girlfriend in the early-morning hours of Feb. 14, 2013, allegedly after arguing with her. Her family left the courtroom quickly after the hearing concluded.
Relatives of Mr. Pistorius rejoiced. His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, thanked Ms. Masipa for lifting “a big burden” from his family’s shoulders.
“We never had any doubt in Oscar’s version of this tragic incident,” he told reporters. “It won’t bring Reeva back, but our hearts go out to her family and friends.”
Ms. Masipa ordered Mr. Pistorius to return to court for sentencing on Oct. 13.
South African statutes don’t prescribe maximum or minimum sentences for individual crimes, so theoretically he could be sentenced to life in prison — the harshest penalty available under South African law — or merely fined.
Punishments for specific crimes are instead governed by precedent, which point to a prison term of about 15 years for Mr. Pistorius, lawyers and criminologists said.
Ms. Masipa has a record of handing down harsh sentences to men who have committed violence against women, including life sentences in recent years for a serial rapist and another to a policeman who shot and killed his wife.
A spokesman for South Africa’s national prosecuting authority said he was disappointed to see the ruling against premeditated murder. He wouldn’t say whether prosecutors would appeal the decision.