Thursday 18 January 2018

Pistorius walks on his stumps in bid for leniency

Oscar Pistorius walks across the courtroom without his prosthetic legs during the third day of his resentencing hearing. Photo: Reuters
Oscar Pistorius walks across the courtroom without his prosthetic legs during the third day of his resentencing hearing. Photo: Reuters

Christopher Torchia

Oscar Pistorius removed his prostheses and hobbled on his stumps in front of a judge in a South African courtroom yesterday, as part of his defence team's attempt to show that the double-amputee Olympic athlete, convicted of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, is a vulnerable man who deserves leniency when he is sentenced.

"Pity will play no role in the sentence," chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered, asking Judge Thokozile Masipa to send the former track star to prison for 15 years, the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa.

Masipa will announce the sentence on July 6, she said at the end of three days of testimony and arguments in Pistorius's sentencing hearing.

That sentencing is also expected to conclude the three-year legal saga of the once-acclaimed athlete who was an inspiration to many before he shot his girlfriend in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. Pistorius is under house arrest after an appeals court overturned an initial manslaughter conviction against him and changed that to murder. He served one year in prison for manslaughter.

Pistorius said he thought he was shooting at an intruder, but prosecutors said he intentionally killed his girlfriend after a fight.

Masipa, who initially acquitted Pistorius of murder at his trial in 2014, must now re-sentence him.

The most dramatic image of the sentencing hearing was Pistorius walking unsteadily on his stumps in the courtroom yesterday.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux asked him to remove his prostheses and the Olympian, who had taken off his suit and put on a T-shirt and running shorts during a recess, then hobbled across the courtroom. Wearing sportswear emblazoned with the logos of his former sponsor Nike, Pistorius was unsteady at times, holding onto desks and helped by a woman at one point. He then returned to a bench where he sat alone, head bowed, and wiped away tears.

The demonstration drew gasps from some onlookers in the courtroom.

"I don't want to overplay disability," Roux said ahead of the demonstration, "but the time has come that we must just look (at Pistorius) with different eyes."

The defence's argument is that Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and a history-making amputee athlete who ran at the 2012 Olympics, was a scared disabled man when he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius was on his stumps when he fired the fatal shots. Roux said: "It was not the man winning gold medals that must be judged" but rather "a man standing on his stumps at 3 o'clock in the morning in the dark that must be judged."

Chief prosecutor Nel said Pistorius should get the minimum sentence of 15 years, arguing he had not shown genuine remorse, as well as noting the seriousness of the crime and the impact on Steenkamp's family. Nel asked Masipa not to forget that Pistorius shot four times into a toilet cubicle from close range when he killed Steenkamp. "He intended to shoot someone in the bathroom. He did," Nel said.

Nel also addressed the defence argument that Pistorius is a "broken man" because of the grief from killing Steenkamp and the trauma that followed as the world focused on his case. Nel referred to the testimony a day earlier of Barry Steenkamp, father of the victim: "If you ever want to talk about a broken man, we saw a broken man there."

Irish Independent

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