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Oscar Pistorius and culpable homicide: Why the charge would fit

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As reporters, court attendees and the world at large try to decide if Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to death on Valentine's Day with malice aforethought (as the prosecution contends), a judge could easily decide right now that he is guilty of culpable homicide. According to a March 13 CNN report, the Olympic and Paralympic athlete has a history of grabbing his gun at the first sound of a burglar when he is at home at night in bed. Just ask his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who testified as much in court this week.

There never was a burglar when Oscar would go to the bathroom to investigate, according to Taylor, who says Pistorius thought something had hit a bathroom window one night while they were sleeping and he "actually woke her up, to ask if she'd heard it too." So without a history of any intruder, only previous instances in which he thought one was there, but learned they were not, did this "gun lover" choose to open fire four times into a locked bathroom door the night his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp slept over on Valentine's Day 2013.

Taylor never got up out of bed to go to the bathroom like Reeva Steenkamp did during the nights Oscar heard sounds, obviously. But if she had, and if Pistorius had shot her through the bathroom door like he did his model girlfriend, a charge of culpable homicide would be as pertinent then as now, especially in light of the fact there never was a burglar.

And that's because using a gun to shoot at someone allegedly behind a door, whom you cannot even see, and whom you don't even try to identify, is negligent in even the simplest of legal terms. Even in the United States a person must know that someone has entered their home and means them bodily harm before they can shoot to kill and not be charged with murder one.

If the accused had said something like, "Who's there?" before shooting that Valentine's night, then his girlfriend in the bathroom with him would have identified herself immediately, of course. And why wouldn't someone at least give the same command "Stop or I'll shoot" to an intruder that police have to give before discharging their weapon? And why would anyone feel the need to discharge their firearm four times when they didn't even know who was behind the door? Certainly one shot or two would have been enough to physically incapacitate someone hiding behind a locked door?

These questions alone make it probable that the judge hearing the murder trial of the South African Pretoria man will rule that the forensics don't have to prove the suspect killed Steenkamp in a premeditated rage; shooting his gun four times into a locked bathroom door (without asking if it was his girlfriend in there) would seem to indicate it, because a reasonable man would not have done that.

The Atlanta Crime Examiner Radell Smith has a degree in criminal justice and behavioral forensics. She has worked successfully on unsolved homicide cases in the states.

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