Monday 5 December 2016

Oscar Pistorius found guilty of murder - Reeva Steenkamp's father breaks down in tears as ex-athlete could return to jail for at least 15 years

* Manslaughter conviction upgraded to murder
* Could spend at least 15 years in jail
* Will continue house arrest until new sentencing
* Pistorius has one more avenue of appeal
* Judge: 'common sense' that shooting could have led to a death
* Reeva Steenkamp's father breaks down in tears and speaks of his 'relief'

Independent.ie Newsdesk and Agencies

Published 03/12/2015 | 08:39

June Steenkamp, centre, the mother of Reeve Steenkamp, is comforted as appeals court judge Eric Leach delivers his verdict, during the appeals court hearing
June Steenkamp, centre, the mother of Reeve Steenkamp, is comforted as appeals court judge Eric Leach delivers his verdict, during the appeals court hearing
Appeals court judge Eric Leach reads out the court findings, during the appeals court hearing, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Johan Pretorius, Pool)
June Steenkamp, the mother of Reeve Steenkamp, listens as appeals court judge Eric Leach delivers his verdict, during the appeals court hearing, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Johan Pretorius, Pool)
June Steenkamp (second from right), the mother of Reeve Steenkamp, is embraced by African National Congress Women League members after the court finding in the Oscar Pistorius trial in Bloemfontein on December 3, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
June Steenkamp (centre) the mother of Reeve Steenkamp leaves after judge Eric Leach read out the court finding in the Oscar Pistorius trial in Bloemfontein, South Africa on December 3, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
The court room while Judge Eric Leach reads out the court finding in the Oscar Pistorius trial in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on December 3, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
June Steenkamp the mother of Reeve Steenkamp looks on as judge Eric Leach (not in picture) reads out the court finding in the Oscar Pistorius trial in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on December 3, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Journalists wait outside the home of Oscar Pistorius' uncle Arnold Pistorius in Pretoria December 3, 2015. Reuters/Mike Hutchings
Journalists wait outside the home of Oscar Pistorius' uncle Arnold Pistorius in Pretoria December 3, 2015. Reuters/Mike Hutchings
File photo: Oscar Pistorius in 2012. PA Wire.

Oscar Pistorius' manslaughter conviction has been upgraded to murder, which means he could return to jail for at least 15 years.

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A South African appeals court has overturned 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 tribunal in Bloemfontein and directed the trial court, the North Gauteng High Court, to impose sentence.

He did not specify when that should happen. The former track star is currently under house arrest at his uncle's mansion in Pretoria.

"The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder on the basis that he had fired the fatal shots with criminal intent," the judge told the courtroom, in which Ms Steenkamp's mother sat.

Leach added that "as a matter of common sense, at the time the fatal shots were fired the possibility of the death of a person behind the door was clearly an obvious result."

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius is awaiting a court ruling on whether his conviction of culpable homicide should be replaced with the initial and more serious charge of murder (AP)

He described the story of Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp as a "human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions" whose legal aftermath was conducted in the glare of international attention.

"A young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete," Justice Leach said. "In doing so he becomes an international celebrity. He meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model. Romance blossoms and then ironically, on Valentine's Day, all is destroyed when he takes her life."

Oscar Pistorius has been released from prison in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius has been released from prison in Pretoria

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.

The trial court can also consider whether he should be shown leniency because he is disabled and is a first-time offender.

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 Ms Steenkamp during an argument.

Justice 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 shown live on television. Pistorius was not there.

The father of slain model Reeva Steenkamp broke down in tears as he said he felt a sense of "relief" after South Africa's appeal court found that Pistorius was guilty of murdering Reeva.

"It's a big relief. I feel it's a fair decision that the judge gave," Barry Steenkamp said in a brief interview on local television station ANN7.

"For us as a family, we can get on with our lives now and I hope his family can get on with their lives now," he said.

The former athlete's family said in a statement that it had taken note of the judgment.

"The legal team will study the finding and we will be guided by them in terms of options going forward," the statement said.

A date for Pistorius's new sentencing will be announced in the city of Pretoria, where he had been tried and imprisoned.

Pistorius could receive between 15 and 20 years for murder, although his sentence already served will be deducted.

Under South African law, he will serve at least half of the sentence issued.

It is also understood that Pistorius has one more possible avenue of appeal - the Constitutional Court. The judgments of this court are based on the constitution and is required to consider international human rights.

State prosecutors who lodged the appeal for today say Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp and that she fled to a toilet during a row. Pistorius denies deliberately killing Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder at his home.

On Tuesday, journalists got a look at his former cell during a tour of a maximum security prison. It is in the hospital section of the Kgosi Mampuru II prison and is furnished with a single mattress on a metal frame, a basin with a backdrop of white tiles on the wall and a small cabinet. A barred window is backed by a metal screen, blocking the view.

The cell is set apart from the main prison in an area with a room for just one other inmate.

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-fibre running blades.

A Pistorius family source said their phones were ringing non-stop and Pistorius was surrounded by his aunt, uncle, siblings and family, the Telegraph newspaper has reported.

"It was a harsh judgement, harsher than we thought but in terms of the content, we felt it would go this way after hearing what was said at the appeal," the source said.

The source added that Pistorius had been preparing mentally for the likely outcome. "You have to prepare for it."

The case has prompted a fierce debate in a country beset by high levels of violent crime. Some rights groups say the white track star - dubbed "Blade Runner" because of the carbon fibre prosthetic blades he uses to race - got preferential treatment.

At the original trial last year, Judge Masipa ruled that the state had failed to prove intent or "dolus eventualis", a legal concept that centres on a person being held responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions.

Dolus eventualis refers to whether a person foresees the possibility that his or her action will cause death but carries on regardless.

Anneliese Burgess, the Pistorius family's spokeswoman, said the media need not camp outside the home of the athlete's uncle in a wealthy suburb of Waterkloof in the capital Pretoria where he has been living since being released on parole.

"To save all of you the trouble of camping out at the Pistorius home tomorrow, I thought it best to let you know in advance that there will not be an on-camera statement made tomorrow," she said.

Members of the ruling African National Congress party's Women's League have attended the court sessions in solidarity with Steenkamp's family and in support of women's rights.

Reuters

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