Saturday 16 December 2017

Pistorius faces just three more years in jail for murdering Reeva

Oscar Pistorius hugs his sister Aimee (far right) before being taken away from court Photo: AP
Oscar Pistorius hugs his sister Aimee (far right) before being taken away from court Photo: AP

TJ Strydom

South African Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius may serve just three more years in prison for murdering Reeva Steenkamp - far less than the 15-year minimum term sought by prosecutors.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, whose sentence at the initial manslaughter trial was criticised by women's groups as too lenient, said she had accepted the defence argument that a lesser punishment was appropriate. She ordered Pistorius yesterday to serve six years in jail, but his defence team say he could apply for parole after three years.

June and Barry Steenkamp, parents of Reeva Photo: Charlie Shoemaker/Getty Images
June and Barry Steenkamp, parents of Reeva Photo: Charlie Shoemaker/Getty Images

Pistorius, who fatally shot his girlfriend four times through a toilet door, has already served 12 months in prison for her death.

But the original manslaughter conviction was increased to murder by South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal in December.

"Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court," Judge Masipa said. "I am of the view that a long term in prison will not serve justice."

Pistorius, who stood impassively as the sentence was read out, hugged members of his legal team and chatted briefly with his tearful sister Aimee before being led away by police.

Reeva Steenkamp Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy of Stimulii
Reeva Steenkamp Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy of Stimulii

Women's rights groups say Pistorius has received preferential treatment from the justice system compared to non-whites and those without his wealth or international celebrity status. His supporters say he did not intend to kill Ms Steenkamp.

The state and large sections of the South African public had demanded a 15-year jail term, the prescribed minimum term for murder, saying he had shown no remorse for the 2013 killing.

It was unclear whether the state, which has two weeks to appeal, would accept yesterday's sentence.

The track star, who had the lower part of his legs amputated when he was a baby, was freed from prison last October after almost a year behind bars. He was to serve the remainder of his five-year term under house arrest at his uncle's house in a wealthy suburb of the capital. Pistorius has been living with his uncle since.

Ms Steenkamp's father Barry, who, in an emotional statement to the sentencing hearings, said Pistorius must pay for his crime, declined to comment on the prospects for an appeal. "We'll leave that to the state," he said.

In her ruling, Judge Masipa said that although the Steenkamps had suffered a great loss, Pistorius's life and career were also in ruins.

"The life of the accused shall also never be the same. He is a fallen hero and can never be at peace," she said.

The judge agreed with the defence that Pistorius, who shot Ms Steenkamp in the early hours of St Valentine's Day, was not the gold medal-winning athlete but a vulnerable 1.5m tall man. She said there was no indication the deceased was in an abusive relationship with Pistorius. She also said there was no evidence there had been a row between Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp before her death, as suggested by the prosecution.

Pistorius says he fired four shots into the toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home in the mistaken belief that an intruder was hiding behind it. His defence argued that his disability and mental stress that occurred in the aftermath of the killing should be considered as mitigating circumstances to reduce his sentence.

Outside the court, a group of supporters held up placards backing the athlete. One read: "Give Oscar his freedom back please".

Legal analysts were divided by the ruling in a country beset by high levels of violent crime against women.

"To reduce from 15 to six years in the circumstances of the case seems to me to be unduly generous to Oscar," said Paul Hoffman, a lawyer from rights group Accountability Now. "First five years, now six years? She is an embarrassment to the justice system," said Jacqueline Mofokeng, of the women's wing of the ANC.

Irish Independent

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