Tag Archive | "Murder"

Judge Masipa delivers her judgment in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Image Source: Reuters.

Oscar Pistorius Verdict: Judicial Criticism and Uncertain Sentencing

On September 12, South African paralympian Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend, model and law graduate, Reeva Steenkamp. Acquitting Pistorius on the charge of murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa handed down the manslaughter-equivalent finding in the North Gauteng High Court. Pistorius, 27, was released on bail and will return for a sentencing hearing on October 13.


Oscar Pistorius leaves high court in Pretoria September 12, 2014 following the verdict.

Oscar Pistorius leaves high court in Pretoria September 12, 2014 following the verdict. Image Source: Getty Images.

Judge Masipa ruled that the state failed to prove that Pistorius had the requisite intent necessary to warrant a guilty finding for culpable murder. “The evidence failed to prove the accused had intention [to kill],” she said. “The accused had the intention to shoot at the person behind the door, not to kill.” Pistorius has always maintained that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her four times in his home.


A number of top legal experts have been critical of Masipas’ ruling and legal reasoning. Masipa’s interpretation of dolus eventualis , and her judgment that Pistorius was not guilty on a charge of illegal possession of ammunition, has sparked intense debate. Many outspoken pundits have taken this criticism one step further, attacking Masipa personally and questioning her qualifications as a member of the judiciary.


Some commentators, however, have come to Masipa’s defense. Pierre de Vos, constitutional law scholar at the University of Cape Town tweeted, “by all means critique the #OscarTrial judgment and application of the law. Not cool to launch ad hominem attacks on the judge.” Johannesburg-based attorney Willem de Klerk said to local press: “[r]obust criticism of a judgment and court processes, even the conduct of a judge, is perfectly acceptable…but…[y]ou cannot insult the judge in her personal capacity. Such caricatures of her border on hate speech.”

Judge Masipa delivers her judgment in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Image Source: Reuters.

Judge Masipa delivers her judgment in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Image Source: Reuters.

The future of Pistorius’ in career remains uncertain.  Following the verdict, Nike terminated Pistorius’ endorsement contract. However, Pistorius may still be free to participate in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Chris Spence, International Paralympic Committee spokesperson said that as long as Pistorius had served his sentence, the Committee “wouldn’t stand in his way.” Pistorius’ agent and manager, Peet van Zyl, has also announced that the athlete plans to release a book detailing Pistorius’ version of the events following Valentine’s Day of last year.


Until the sentence is announced next month, however, all plans for the paralympian remain on hold.  Pistorius potentially faces up to 15 years in prison and the National Prosecuting Authority could potentially appeal the ruling.  Section 310 of the Criminal Procedure Act allows the state to appeal a not-guilty verdict on “any question of law.” NPA spokesperson, Nathi Mncube said Friday that they will wait until after sentencing to decide whether to appeal. What continues, however, is prolonged unrest in a country thought by many to still harbor racial bias in the legal system.

Breann Plasters is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and Executive Editor for the Denver Journal for International Law and Policy.

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Amanda Knox was initially convicted of murder in 2009 in Perugia, Italy, following a highly publicized and sensationalized trial. (nydailynews.com)

Critical Analysis: Judge Overturns Acquittal in Amanda Knox Murder Trial

Amanda Knox was initially convicted of murder in 2009 in Perugia, Italy, following a highly publicized and sensationalized trial. (nydailynews.com)

Amanda Knox was initially convicted of murder in 2009 in Perugia, Italy, following a highly publicized and sensationalized trial. (nydailynews.com)

The Amanda Knox saga is far from over, as Italy’s highest court overturned a judgment of acquittal and has ordered a new trial. The initial conviction, which came in 2009 in Perugia, Italy, followed a highly publicized and sensationalized trial. After deliberating for 12 hours, a jury convicted  Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, for murder of their English roomate, Meredith Kercher. In 2011, this conviction was overturned by an Italian appellate court in a decision that brought relief and prompted cheers from the American families present in the courtroom.

Seemingly exonerated of all charges and freed from her 26-year prison sentence, the then 24 year-old former University of Washington student returned to America. However, prosecutors appealed to the Italian Supreme Court and prevailed in March of this year when it overturned the acquittal. The initial trial headlined around the world, as an unlikely 22 year-old visiting American college student was accused of the 2007 brutal murder of her roommate. As the prosecution rested most of their case on circumstantial evidence, including very small amounts of DNA on the murder weapon and on a bra clasp, their case was further complicated with reports of the police’s mishandling of the material.

As Amanda Knox faces the reality of revisiting a nightmare that included 4 years of imprisonment in Italy, questions about her trial and guilt are raised, including why she acted so strangely at the police station following her roommate’s murder, and the unusual friendship between Knox and Kercher. Among the controversy is the release of her memoir, Waiting to Be Heard. She uses the memoir as an opportunity to defend herself and explain her reaction and behavior following the murder of Kercher, explaining that it was a very “confusing and terrifying situation” that resulted in unusual emotional responses. She also describes her promiscuous life as a student in Italy as well as the life she led with co-defendant and former boyfriend Sollecito. Knox also reveals that she wrote a letter to Kercher’s parents saying she did not kill their daughter, but did not send the letter upon advice from counsel. While capitalizing on her experience, as HarperCollins reportedly paid around $4 million for the book deal, Knox must still face the reality of a new trial.

Knox is admittedly afraid to return to Italy and believes there is an absolute lack of evidence and insufficient grounds supporting a conviction. She is still fighting critical comments regarding her apparent cold and insensitive reaction following Kercher’s murder. Still a student at the University of Washington, Knox will have to prepare for any potential outcome in a new trial.

Lydia Rice is 2L and a Candidacy Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

The First Family of Genocide

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued its judgment earlier this summer in the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko et al.

The Rwanda Tribunal has been working for 17 years and it has completed 50 genocide trials. Its judgments are now issued with comparatively little fanfare. But the Nyiramasuhuko judgment is extraordinary and merits a closer look.

Nyiramasuhuko, often referred to as simply “Pauline”, is first woman at the Rwanda Tribunal to be charged with genocide and the only women ever to be convicted. Pauline’s case concerned the town of Butare in Rwanda, a University town whose mayor bravely resisted the national government’s unfolding genocidal plans providing a safe harbor to thousands of desperate Tutsis. Nyiramasuhuko was instrumental in having the mayor sacked and later murdered to pave the way for the killing. She then proceeded to be a pivotal figure in the massacre of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman to be convicted of rape as an act of genocide. After the genocide but prior to her arrest, she was interviewed by the BBC in a Congolese refugee camp in 1995. She told the BBC she was not involved in the killings: “I couldn’t even kill a chicken. If there is a person who says that a woman, a mother, could have killed, I’ll tell you truly then I am ready to confront that person.” It turns out, this woman and mother not only had many Tutsis killed based on her direct orders but also ordered many women to be raped.

Nyiramasuhuko was the Minister of Women’s Development in Rwanda. Nyiramasuhuko held a Ministerial post in the extremist Rwandan government. It was cruel irony that the Minister of Women’s Development so brazenly ordered women to be raped and machete’d to death.

Nyiramasuhuko was convicted of conspiracy to commit genocide. The Nyiramasuhuko case was one of the rare cases where a Rwandan Trial Chamber issued a conviction on the conspiracy mode of liability. More often than not, Trial Chambers have not been persuaded by the evidence offered by the prosecution that an agreement to commit genocide existed. Only the Nazis wrote down their explicit genocidal plans, for the other genocides the evidence of conspiracy tends to be circumstantial. In Pauline’s case, however, the Trial Chamber found that the evidence clearly established Pauline audaciously conspired with her son and others to eliminate the Tutsi in Butare.

Nyiramasuhuko was the first person to be convicted for committing genocide with a son. The one thing you can say in Pauline’s favor is that she had a close-knit family. One of Pauline’s co-defendants was her son, Shalom Ntahobali. Evidence at trial established that Pauline ordered her son to abduct and rape Tutsi women. And being a good son, he complied.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law