Paralympian Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide in death of girlfriend
South African Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius appears at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria on Aug. 19, 2013. [AFP]

Oscar Pistorius was on Friday found guilty of culpable homicide and faced a potential lengthy jail term for shooting dead his glamorous girlfriend, in a case that shattered the Paralympian hero's glittering career.

Pistorius was acquitted of a more serious charge of murder, but South African Judge Thokozile Masipa said on Friday that he had acted "negligently" in killing the blonde law graduate, named as one of the world's 100 sexiest women.

The judge agreed to release Pistorius on bail pending sentencing beginning on October 13.

His trial heard that in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2013 Pistorius fired four hollow point rounds into a locked toilet door, causing Steenkamp's head to "explode" and "amputating" her arm.

Dismissing swathes of state evidence as inconclusive or irrelevant, Masipa ruled that on the charge of murder "the accused is found not guilty and is discharged, instead he is found guilty of culpable homicide."

"A reasonable person," Masipa said, would have foreseen "that whoever was behind the door might be killed," adding that Pistorius did not take steps to avoid that.

The "Blade Runner," so nicknamed for the prosthetic legs that powered him to fame, stared straight ahead as the conviction was read, showing little emotion.

But from the gallery there was a sound of sniffles and shallow breaths as friends and family of 29-year-old Steenkamp cried.

Steenkamp's father Barry ran his hand over his head while her mother June pursed her lips and shook her head.

With no mandatory sentence for culpable homicide, Masipa -- known for handing out stiff sentences -- will have a great deal of discretion over the punishment, which could range from a fine to more than a decade in jail.

"It all comes down to how she feels, how bad the mistake was," said Johannesburg lawyer David Dadic. "It's a very serious negligence crime."

Speaking after the verdict, Pistorius's uncle Arnold said the damage done to the athlete as a result of the trial had been "tragic."

- Shock and relief -

But crime-weary South Africans and legal experts voiced anger and surprise that Pistorius was found not guilty of murder.

"Everyone is a little surprised," said lawyer Audrey Berndt.

Wits University criminal law professor James Grant said the state could appeal if they believe there has been an legal error.

The National Prosecuting Authority, said it was "disappointed" with the vedict, but had not yet decided on whether to appeal.

Outside the court Trevor, a 52-year-old pastor from Pretoria, expressed disgust at the verdict, and a sense that justice favours the rich.

"If he didn't have money he would be in jail," he said. "Real men don't do that."

Masipa -- whose career has taken her from a childhood in a poor Johannesburg township to the country's high court -- had described Pistorius as a "very poor witness" who was "evasive" when questioned.

The judge however found Pistorius guilty on just one of three gun charges that were also levelled against him.

Masipa said Pistorius was guilty of negligently handling a gun in a busy Johannesburg restaurant.

While Pistorius was having lunch with friends, he asked to see a friend's gun. While handling it under the table the firearm went off, injuring a boxer Kevin Lerena.

"He may not have intentionally pulled the trigger," said Masipa, "that does not absolve him of the crime of negligently handling a firearm."

Masipa had however cleared Pistorius on charges of illegally possessing ammunition, which the sprinter said belonged to his father.

She also said there was not enough evidence to prove he fired a gun through a car sunroof, dismissing the testimony of two witnesses.

The trial, which has gripped South Africans and much of the world for half a year, has often veered into the realm of reality TV.

During proceedings Pistorius -- a double amputee who inspired millions worldwide by overcoming his disability to become a Paralympic champion and compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games -- has broken down, weeping and at times vomiting in the dock.

Any stiff sentence is likely to be followed by an appeal.

Born without fibulas -- calf bones -- Pistorius had his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months of age and was fitted with prosthetics which allowed him to play sports.

He has taken numerous sprinting titles in the Paralympics and made history in 2012 when he became the first double-amputee to compete at both the Olympics and the Paralympics..

[Pistorius image via AFP]