Oscar Pistorius Verdict: What You Need to Know

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

It's been more than a year and a half since star athlete Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend to death, catapulting him onto an international stage of scrutiny and questions. Did Pistorius intentionally kill Reeva Steenkamp, as prosecutors in a Pretoria, South Africa, courtroom have argued, or did he shoot because he mistook her for an intruder, as he and his defense attorneys have claimed?

Judge Thokozile Masipa has the final word in Pistorius' case. She began delivering her verdict Thursday, but the process of delivering it could take hours or even days. Here's what to expect in the final leg of the trial that has captivated the world.

How the verdict will be read

Pistorius faces murder and three unrelated firearm charges. In South Africa, the judge, not jurors, decide verdicts; Judge Masipa will explain how she and two legal assessors reached a decision on each count. That could last through Thursday and might continue into Friday. She will summarize each of the 37 witnesses (one of which was Pistorius himself) who testified and explained what she took into consideration from each of their testimonies before delivering her full verdict.

The murder charges

Sentencing will be decided at a later hearing, based on what, if anything, he is found guilty of:

Premeditated murder: If Pistorius is found guilty of this charge, the most serious of them all, he faces up to life in prison, with a minimum of 25 years before the chance for parole. This is the charge prosecutors have pushed for, though Pistorius pleaded not guilty to murder. The sentence could be reduced through mitigation.

Murder: Masipa could find Pistorius guilty of this lesser charge if she believes beyond reasonable doubt that he meant to kill the person behind his closed bathroom door on Valentine's Day 2013 — whether it was Steenkamp or an intruder — but hadn't pre-planned the killing. He could face up to 15 years' imprisonment for this charge, although if Masipa feels Pistorius has shown enough remorse since the shooting, she could give him a much lighter sentence.

Culpable homicide: Even if Pistorius is acquitted of murder, he could be found guilty of culpable homicide, which is similar to a manslaughter charge in the U.S., or a negligent killing charge. Even if the judge finds Pistorius didn't intend to kill Steenkamp, it could still be determined that he acted negligently in her death.

If it's found he had no intention of killing and acted reasonably in the situation he was in, given the high crime rate in South Africa, he could be acquitted of all three of these charges. Prosecutors would likely appeal a decision that Pistorius was acting in self-defense, which he has claimed throughout the trial.

The firearm charges

Pistorius is accused of discharging firearms in public, once in a crowded Johannesburg restaurant and another time through his car sunroof. Both carry a prison sentence of up to five years. He is also accused of illegal possession of ammunition, which carries up to 15 years.

Sentencing and an appeal

If Pistorius is convicted of anything, prosecutors and his defense lawyers can bring forward witnesses in what essentially will be a second trial before Masipa decides how long (or if) he goes to prison. If either side appeals, the appeal can only happen after sentencing, at which point the conviction, the sentence, or both can be appealed.