Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Oscar Pistorius sentenced to six years in jail for Reeva Steenkamp murder
Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete who killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, by firing four bullets through a closed toilet door, has been sentenced to a lower than expected six years in prison.
The sentence, given by Judge Thokozile Masipa in the high court in Pretoria, may be the final chapter in a story that attracted intense worldwide attention.
Pistorius, who gained global fame when he reached the semi-finals of the 200m sprint at the 2012 Olympics in London, was taken down to cells immediately after the sentencing at 10.30am on Wednesday.
The former athlete showed little emotion, but looked relieved. His family made no immediate statement.
The sentence was much lower than many had expected and public prosectors had demanded the mandatory minimum for murder of 15 years.
Andrew Fawcett, a defence lawyer, said: “We respect the decision of Judge Masipa and from a defence perspective we will not be making any application [to appeal].”
Public prosecutors may decide to challenge the sentence but supporters of the Steenkamps said “the law has run its course”.
“There is nothing [the family] can do about the sentence. Nothing will bring Reeva back. The best thing to do is to maintain a dignified silence,” said Doup De Bruyn, a lawyer who has represented the family.
Anneliese Burgess, a spokesperson for the Pistorius family, said the trial had been a “long, drawn out process” and considered the case over.
“To a certain extent there is relief that this is the last chapter, that they won’t be coming back,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.
Carl Pistorius, brother of the former athlete, said on Twitter that the family had “the utmost respect” for Masipa.
Campaigners for women’s rights in South Africa expressed disappointment.
“The judgment is an insult to women. It sends the wrong message,” said Jacqui Mofokeng of the African National Congress women’s league, who has attended much of the trial and was in court on Wednesday.
Pistorius, 29, was initially convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to five years in prison for shooting Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, at his home on Valentine’s Day 2013.
After an appeal by state prosecutors he was convicted of murder last year, a crime which carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years.
Prosecutors had called for the mandatory minimum, saying that a message needed to be sent in a country with extremely high levels of violent crime, often involving firearms. Defence lawyers had argued that a non-custodial sentence – such as community service – would be most appropriate.Pistorius arrived for court looking anxious but healthier than during the hearings last month. He hugged members of his legal team and his family. Relatives of Pistorius and those of his victim filled a bench along the front of the courtroom.
In an hour-long judgment, Masipa said the evidence she had heard convinced her Pistorius was “not a violent person”, was unlikely to reoffend and had shown remorse.
The judge said she had to balance the interests of society, the accused and relatives of the victim.
Pistorius, she said, was “a fallen hero, who has lost his career, and been ruined financially. He cannot be at peace.”
She also stressed that a court should not be swayed by public opinion but that punishment must also reflect the seriousness of the offence. It should be “unpleasant, uncomfortable and painful”.
Under South African law, Pistorius, who has been living in his uncle’s large home in a suburb of Pretoria, would be eligible for parole long before the end of the sentence.
Pistorius, who became the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics in 2012, was a hero to many in South Africa and across the world. He landed a series of lucrative sponsorship deals with leading brands, and was labelled the “blade runner”, a reference to the carbon fibre prosthetics he used to compete.
But the fairytale story of tenacity and talent overcoming disability ended abruptly in the early hours of 14 February 2013, when Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was 11 months old, shot Steenkamp dead with a 9mm handgun.
In court on Wednesday, Masipa described Steenkamp as “young, vivacious, full of life and hopes for the future”.
“It is clear from the evidence the Steenkamps have a very close bond,” she said.
Pistorius has always denied deliberately shooting Steenkamp, claiming that he believed a burglar was hiding in the toilet in his home. Prosecutors said he killed Steenkamp in a jealous rage.
Masipa said she accepted the defence version of events but stressed that “murder is always a very serious crime … the fact that the accused thought it was an intruder does not make it any less serious”.
The trial revealed a different and much darker side to Pistorius: a taste for fast cars and guns – and a short temper.
His defence lawyers argued that, though a hero to many, the truth was that the athlete was a deeply anxious man.
On the third and final day of the sentencing hearing last month, Pistorius removed his prosthetics to hobble on his stumps across the courtroom to demonstrate his physical vulnerability.
Barry Roux, who led the team representing the former athlete, argued he should not return to jail on account of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and called a clinical psychologist as a witness who told the court Pistorius was a “broken man” who has “left his fate up to God”.
“[In 2014 I saw two Oscars … one was this super-Olympian, very successful, who seemed totally in control and even physically tall with his prostheses. Then there was the other [Oscar] without his prostheses who was a vulnerable, anxious man. More recently, I saw a third Oscar that really has almost given up. His spirit seems broken. I believe he is quite ill. If he was my patient, I would admit him to hospital,” Prof Jonathan Scholtz told the court.
But, in emotional testimony, Barry Steenkamp, the 73-year-old father of the victim, called for Pistorius to “pay for his crime”.
With his hands shaking and voice trembling, Steenkamp described the moment he learned of his daughter’s death and the intense pain of bereavement.
“Ever since Reeva’s death I have spent my time on my veranda, at two or three in the morning. I smoke my cigarettes. I think of Reeva every day, every day of my life, morning, noon and night … I talk to her every day in my head … my daughter,” he said.
During the sentencing hearing Gerrie Nel, leading the prosecution team, told Masipa any sentence needed to consider the needs of the broader community and send a strong message to deter violent crime.
“I cannot think of a more excessive use of a firearm than … firing four shots through that doorway,” said Nel, whose belligerent style has attracted both praise and criticism. “Murder remains the most reprehensible crime … Society demands that appropriate sentences be imposed.”
The killing and the trial also held a mirror to South Africa more than 20 years after the end of apartheid and the coming of democracy amid widespread disillusionment at a perceived failure to achieve the lofty goals of that time.
“In the same way that [Nelson] Mandela was the symbol of the country in the glorious years of generosity and pragmatism and all those good things, Pistorius … was a national icon of whom everyone was proud. His cataclysmic fall was a metaphor for broader disappointed dreams,” John Carlin, who attended the trial and is the author of a book on the former athlete, told the Guardian last month.