PRETORIA (Reuters, AFP) - South African Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius was Wednesday (July 6) sentenced to six years' jail for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the latest twist in a trial that has gripped the world.
The state and large sections of the South African public had called for him to receive no less than the prescribed minimum 15-year sentence for murder, saying Pistorius had shown no remorse for the killing.
High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa disagreed, accepting the defence’s arguments for a lesser punishment.
“Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court,” Masipa said. “I am of the view that a long term in prison will not serve justice.”
No sentence will please everyone, she said. Nothing will bring back the deceased.
"The life of the accused will never be the same. He is a fallen hero … He cannot be at peace," she said in her reading of her ruling.
Dressed in a dark suit, the 29-year-old stared straight ahead as Masipa read out the sentence. He was taken to prison immediately after the sentencing.
His defence team said he would not appeal. It was not clear whether the state would appeal the verdict.
Pistorius will serve “between half and two thirds of the sentence” before he can apply for parole, said Andrew Fawcett, Pistorius’ instructing attorney.
Initially convicted of manslaughter in 2014 and sentenced to five years' jail, of which he served just one year before being freed from prison last October, Pistorius was found guilty of murdering Steenkamp by an appeals court last December, a conviction which has a mandatory sentence of 15 years.
Pistorius shot Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013, claiming he mistook her for a burglar when he fired four times through the door of his bedroom toilet.
Wednesday’s sentencing may also not be the end of the saga, as Pistorius or the state could launch a final round of appeals against the length of the prison term.
During the sentencing hearing last month, Pistorius, sobbing heavily, hobbled on his stumps across the courtroom to demonstrate his physical vulnerability as his lawyers argued he should not return to jail on account of his anxiety disorder and depression.
But prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that the double-amputee sprinter should be given a lengthy jail term as he failed to show any remorse for the murder.
Nel also criticised Pistorius for filming a recent television interview, despite claiming to be too unwell to give evidence in court.
In the interview – his first since the killing – Pistorius said that he believed Steenkamp would want him to devote his life to charity rather than return to prison.
Steenkamp’s father 73-year-old Barry broke down during his testimony at the sentencing hearing as he called for
Pistorius to “pay for his crime” of murdering Reeva, a model and law graduate.
Pistorius, who pleaded not guilty at his trial in 2014, has always denied killing Steenkamp in a rage, saying he was trying to protect her.
The Supreme Court of Appeal in December ruled that Pistorius was guilty of murder, irrespective of who was behind the door when he opened fire with a high-calibre pistol he kept under his bed.
Pistorius – who was born without calf bones – had his legs amputated below the knee when he was just 11 months old so he could be fitted with prosthetic legs.
Since his release, Pistorius has lived under restrictions at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria. He became the first Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.
Some rights groups have said Pistorius, a wealthy white man and international celebrity, has received preferential treatment compared to others without his status or wealth.
Outside the court on Wednesday, a group of people held up placards backing the athlete. One read: “Give Oscar his freedom back please”.
Members of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress, who have attended the trial in support of the murdered Steenkamp clad in their green and black uniform, were seated in court awaiting the ruling.
Johannesburg-based lawyer Ulrich Roux, who is not involved in the case, said Masipa would have to balance any mitigating circumstances against the seriousness of his crime.
“For her it’s a delicate balancing act,” said Roux, adding that either the defence or prosecution could mount a legal challenge if they felt the sentence was too lenient or harsh.