PRETORIA (AFP, REUTERS) - South African Paralympian star sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday for the killing of his girlfriend last year.
“Count one, culpable homicide: the sentence imposed is five years,” Judge Thokozile Masipa said.
Pistorius was also given a three-year suspended sentence on a separate gun offence conviction.
At the culmination of one of the most watched murder trials in recent history, the 27-year-old disabled sprinter was led away by police officers to holding cells beneath the courtroom in Pretoria.
The family of slain model Reeva Steenkamp welcomed the sentencing of Pistorius to up to five years in jail. Steenkamp’s ailing father Barry said he was “very glad” the seven-month trial is over and a lawyer for the family said the sentence was “welcome”.
“Justice was served,” said Dup De Bruyn, the lawyer for the Steenkamp family. He told reporters the judge had given “the right sentence”.
Pistorius’s uncle said the sprinter’s family accepted the court’s judgement.
“The court has now handed down judgement and sentence, and we accept the judgement. Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society,” said Arnold Pistorius in a statement outside court.
Pistorius was convicted last month of culpable homicide - South Africa's equivalent of manslaughter. Steenkamp died almost instantly when Pistorius fired four shots through a bathroom door at his luxury Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year, having mistaken her for an intruder.
Judge Masipa said she wanted to find a balance between retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation, dismissing defence claims that the disabled athlete would face particular suffering in prison.
“It would be a sad day for this country if an impression were to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous,” said Masipa.
She also weighed his ability to cope with incarceration given his physical disability. “Yes the accused is vulnerable, but he also has excellent coping skills,” she said.
Discussing the gravity of Pistorius’s crime, the judge said he had been responsible of “gross negligence”.
“Using a lethal weapon, a loaded firearm, the accused fired not one, but four shots into the door,” said Masipa. “The toilet was a small cubicle and there was no room for escape for the person behind the door,” she said.
Pistorius’ defence lawyer Barry Roux said he expected the jailed athlete to serve only 10 months of the five-year sentence behind bars, and the remainder under house arrest.
However, South Africa’s state prosecuting authority disputed this opinion, saying Pistorius was likely to serve at least a third of his sentence in prison – effectively 20 months.
The double amputee sprinter was acquitted of the more serious charge of murder over Reeva Steenkamp’s death on Valentine’s Day last year. The prosecution has called for 10 years in jail. The defence pleaded for house arrest and community service.
Pistorius testified that he shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model, four times through a locked bathroom door at his upmarket Pretoria home after he mistakenly believed she was an intruder.
His lawyers, arguing that Pistorius would be more vulnerable than most in prison because of his disability, had argued against jail time, and called instead for the equivalent of house arrest and community service.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said such a sentence would be “shockingly inappropriate” and could cause South Africans to lose faith in their legal system.
The trial has drawn international attention and media gathered outside the courthouse shortly after dawn to get into position for the star runner’s entrance and the arrival of friends and families on both sides of the case who have attended the long trial.
A man dressed in prison orange draped himself in chains, holding a sign saying: “Are certain offenders more equal than other offenders before the law?”
The athlete made history by becoming the first Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, inspiring millions with his story.
But during his trial the prosecution painted a darker picture of the one-time sports star, presenting a dangerously volatile young man with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars.
With the conviction and sentence, Pistorius has lost his glittering sports career, lucrative contracts and – above all – his hero status, tarnished forever.