13 June 2016

South Africa: Oscar Pistorius Back in Court to Be Sentenced for Murder of Reeva Steenkamp

Photo: Werner Beukes/Sapa
Oscar Pistorius at the Pretoria High Court (file photo).

South African Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius faces at least 15 years in jail for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The athlete has no legal right to appeal the sentence.

The original judge in the case, Thokozile Masipa was set to begin hearing the pre-sentencing arguments at Pretoria High Court on Monday.

The athlete, who will discover his fate by the end of this week, faces a minimum 15-year jail sentence and cannot appeal. South Africa's top court ruled in March that he had exhausted all his legal options.

Manslaughter

The second sentencing is the latest chapter in Pistorius' three-year legal saga. The 29-year-old was initially convicted in 2014 for shooting his girlfriend Steenkamp through a closed toilet door in his home in the early hour of Valentine's Day in February 2013.

Pitorius testified that he mistook the model for an intruder hiding in a bathroom, arguing that he shot through the door four times with his 9mm pistol out of fear of an attack. The trial judge accepted part of Pistorius' story, ruling that the athlete had acted recklessly, but didn't intend to kill. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

After serving a year in jail, Pitorius was released on parole in line with South African procedure and has been living under house arrest at his uncle's mansion since October 2015.

Murder conviction

Prosecutors appealed Pistorius' manslaughter verdict, however, insisting that he should have been found guilty of murder. They argued that Pistorius intended to kill, even if he didn't know it was his girlfriend in the bathroom.

As a result, in December last year, a panel of Supreme Court judges overturned Pistorius' manslaughter conviction, and raised it to a more serious, murder conviction. South Africa's Constitutional Court rejected Pistorius' attempt in March to appeal. It is for this murder conviction that Pistorius must now be sentenced.

During this week's hearing, the athlete's legal team is expected to call witnesses who will argue that Masipa should be lenient due to Pistorius' mental fragility, physical disability and good behavior during almost a year behind bars for the original manslaughter conviction.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel will also cross-examine and call his own witnesses as he seeks to convince the judge that Pistorius is not remorseful, which is a key consideration in sentencing. Nel is also expected to argue that a lengthy jail term is in the interest of South African justice.

Leniency in 'special circumstances'

The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years. In special circumstances, however, a judge can reduce that sentence. Pistorius' disability and the fact he is a first-time offender could therefore be taken into consideration. He has also already served a year in prison.

Whatever the outcome of this week's sentencing, Pistorius looks set to be begin his new prison sentence just as the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics get under way in Brazil, where he intended to end his acclaimed track career.

ksb/jm (AP, Reuters)

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