JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African appeals court on Thursday convicted Oscar Pistorius of murder, overturning a lower court's conviction of the double-amputee Olympian on the lesser charge of manslaughter for shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to death in 2013.
Justice Lorimer Eric Leach of the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered the ruling by the five-judge appeals court in Bloemfontein and directed the trial court, the North Gauteng High Court, to impose sentence.
"The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder," Leach said to the courtroom, in which Steenkamp's mother sat.
A 15-year prison sentence is the minimum punishment for murder in South Africa. However, the law allows for a lesser sentence to be imposed in exceptional circumstances.
Pistorius was placed under house arrest in October after serving one year in prison. He had been sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter. His lawyers can also argue that he should be shown leniency because he is disabled.
Pistorius, 29, killed Steenkamp in the early morning of Valentine's Day. He insisted he thought she was an intruder behind the door of a toilet cubicle in his home. The prosecution said Pistorius shot Steenkamp during an argument.
Leach said regardless of who might have been behind the door, Pistorius should have known someone could be killed if he fired.
"The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt," the judge said.
Under the concept of "dolus eventualis" in South African law, a person can be convicted of murder if they foresaw the possibility of someone dying through their actions and went ahead anyway.
Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, sat quietly in the courtroom during the announcement, which was carried on TV. Pistorius was not there.
Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion, became one of the world's most famous athletes and the first amputee to run at the Olympics and the able-bodied world championships. He was known as "Blade Runner" for his carbon-fiber running blades
Associated Press writer Lynsey Chutel contributed to this report.