South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been cleared of murder over the killing of his model girlfriend, but a final verdict on culpable homicide, which is an equivalent to manslaughter, remains to be issued.

In a ruling announced in Pretoria on Thursday, Judge Thokozile Masipa said the 27-year-old amputee athlete could not have foreseen he would kill the person behind the door, his 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013.

Pistorius and family members of Steenkamp were seen sobbing as the judge read the verdict.

The court is currently in recess and could deliver the final verdict later in the day on Pistorius' guilt or innocence on culpable homicide.

That charge carries a minimum sentence of a fine, or up to five to 10 years in prison, according to the discretion of the judge. 

The half-year trial has fed intense media interest worldwide, with live broadcasts veering into the realm of television reality shows.

'Two Oscars' 

Nearly 40 witnesses testified, including Pistorius, who broke down, weeping and at times vomiting as he heard how Steenkamp's head "exploded" like a watermelon under the impact of his hollow-point bullet.

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Prosecutors described the double amputee as an egotistical liar obsessed with guns, fast cars and beautiful women, who was not prepared to take responsibility for his actions.

Defence lawyers sought to explain there are "two Oscars": a world-class athlete and a highly vulnerable individual with a serious disability who acted out of fear, not anger, when he fired the fatal shots.

At its heart, the trial is simple. Pistorius killed Steenkamp, a law graduate, when he fired four shots through a locked toilet door in his home in Pretoria.

The sprinter does not deny that he had killed Steenkamp, but questioned why he did it.

He said he thought he was shooting at an intruder and that Steenkamp was safely in bed.

The prosecution said he killed her in a fit of rage after an argument.

Once a poster boy for disabled sport, he has been stripped of lucrative endorsement deals by global brands and has withdrawn from all competition.

Steenkamp, voted one of the 100 Sexiest Women in the World by FHM magazine in 2011 and 2012, also had a high profile before her untimely death.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies