Wednesday 23 May 2018

Pistorius victim's frail father will attend sentencing

Victim: Reeva Steenkamp
Victim: Reeva Steenkamp

Aislinn Laing

The father of Reeva Steenkamp, the South African model murdered by Oscar Pistorius, will give evidence for the first time next week to ask for the athlete to be given a lengthy prison sentence.

Barry Steenkamp, a former race horse trainer, suffered a series of strokes following his daughter's death and did not attend Pistorius's trial.

While his wife, June, sat through harrowing evidence about how their daughter screamed as she was gunned down and the catastrophic injuries she suffered, he opted to watch the trial on TV at home with Steenkamp's half-sister.

Next week, as Pistorius is sentenced for an upgraded murder conviction, Mr Steenkamp is expected to take to the witness box as the "final ace" up the prosecution's sleeve in its bid to have the sprinter held to account.

"He decided he had to say thank you to all the people that supported him but also to say goodbye to his daughter," a source said. "He is very fragile but he wants to do it."

Pistorius killed Ms Steenkamp in the early hours of St Valentine's Day, 2013 by firing on her four times through a locked lavatory door. He claimed he believed she was a burglar and the original trial judge believed him, finding him guilty of manslaughter.

The athlete spent 12 months behind bars before being freed on parole last October.

Since then, he has been on bail and electronically tagged under "correctional supervision" at his uncle Arnold's Pretoria mansion, carrying out unspecified community service work.

In December, South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal overturned that judgment, ruling that the Paralympian was guilty of murder instead and should be returned to prison.

Tomorrow, the original trial judge, Thokozile Masipa, will hear arguments at Pretoria High Court to determine how long he must serve.

Murder carries a mandatory life sentence in South Africa, with a minimum 15-year prescribed jail term. However, Pistorius (28) is likely to see time subtracted from his term for good behaviour during his earlier period in prison.

Ulrich Roux, a South Afri- can criminal lawyer, said if Pistorius opted to give evidence in mitigation of sentence, he could help his cause.

"He is very remorseful about what has happened and shows the court how this tragedy has affected his life," he said.

"He should be able to withstand cross-examination. I think that would stand him in good stead."

Andrea Johnson, the deputy prosecutor in the case, said they would push for the full 15-year minimum term, and would appeal if the judge ordered him to serve fewer than eight.

"This was a gruesome murder and we have dealt with other gruesome murders that were not even of an intimate partner as this was who have received a full sentence," she said. "We will be seeking that for him."

Pistorius has given his first major interview since the crime, to the UK's ITV news, although it will not be screened until June 24. The prosecution team warned this too will count against him at sentence.

Mrs Johnson branded the Pistorius family "arrogant" for agreeing to speak and said the prosecution would seek to determine whether his comments in the interview were a mitigating or aggravating factor in his sentence.

Sunday Independent

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