Oscar Pistorius, the once-celebrated Olympic hero, has been given a five-year prison sentence for shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Mr. Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide, was quickly escorted into a holding cell below the Pretoria courtroom after the sentencing decision. He will be taken straight to prison, where he is expected to be held in a cell in the hospital wing because of his disability, a prosecution spokesman said.
He gave a tiny wry smile and an almost imperceptible shake of his head as he walked downstairs, briefly grasping the hands of his family members and then disappearing under the escort of a police officer.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, in her sentencing ruling on Tuesday, struck a compromise between the defence and prosecution. The state had sought a 10-year jail term, while the defence wanted the double-amputee sprinter to be given a suspended sentence, along with house arrest and community service.
Judge Masipa said the Olympic athlete’s negligence was extreme. Rather than trying to frighten a possible intruder, he fired four bullets through a bathroom door into a small cubicle, knowing that the person behind the door had nowhere to flee, she said.
Judge Masipa rejected the defence arguments that Mr. Pistorius was too vulnerable to be imprisoned. The “Blade Runner” – as he was nicknamed because of his blade-shaped prosthetic legs – can be fairly treated in the prison’s hospital, as the state contended, the judge ruled.
She also gave Mr. Pistorius a suspended three-year sentence for a separate shooting incident, in which he mishandled a Glock pistol in a crowded restaurant and fired a bullet into the floor.
Judge Masipa said she had to ensure that the “rich and powerful” were not seen to enjoy legal privileges that the poor did not. Many South Africans have already commented on how Mr. Pistorius was able to afford a high-powered team of defence lawyers and expert witnesses, while the Steenkamp family was reduced to accepting monthly $600 payments from Mr. Pistorius.
Both the defence and prosecution still have the right to appeal, and they must decide within 14 days. But so far there is no indication of likely appeals. Ms. Steenkamp’s parents “welcomed” the prison sentence for their daughter’s killer, their lawyer said. “It’s right,” said Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp, a few moments after the sentencing.
Oscar’s uncle Arnold Pistorius, the main spokesman for the Pistorius family, said the family accepted the five-year sentence. He said his nephew would “embrace” the prison sentence as an opportunity to “pay back” to society.
Arnold Pistorius, who gave a brief statement to journalists near the court building, said the past 20 months have been a “harrowing” and exhausting ordeal for the family. He accused the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, of relentlessly pursuing a conviction for pre-meditated murder, even at the expense of the truth.
A spokesman for South Africa’s national prosecuting authority said the state had wanted Mr. Pistorius to be convicted of murder, but he said the state was “satisfied” with the fact that he had received a prison sentence, rather than a suspended sentence. It was “consolation,” he said.
The jail sentence seems likely to spell the end to Mr. Pistorius’s track career. The International Paralympic Committee said on Tuesday that he will be barred from its track events for the next five years, reflecting the prison sentence. This means that he will definitely miss the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Mr. Pistorius became the world’s first double-amputee athlete to race against able-bodied sprinters at the Olympics when he competed at the London Olympics in 2012.
PRETORIA — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 21 2014, 3:24 AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 21 2014, 7:07 AM EDT