9 Dec 2015

Oscar Pistorius granted bail after murder conviction

6:58 am on 9 December 2015

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been granted bail while he awaits sentence for murder.

Judges changed his conviction from manslaughter to murder last week.

Former Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, centre, arrives at the South African Gauteng Division High Court in Pretoria on 8 December.

Former Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, centre, arrives at the South African Gauteng Division High Court in Pretoria on 8 December. Photo: AFP

The 29-year-old killed Ms Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013 after shooting four times through a locked toilet door.

He has already served one year of his original five-year sentence in jail.

If he fails in a bid to overturn his conviction he now faces a minimum 15-year jail sentence.

Pistorius, a six-time Paralympic gold medallist whose legs were amputated below the knee as a baby, made history by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics, in 2012, running on prosthetic "blades".

Last week, South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein accepted prosecution arguments and ruled that the lower court did not correctly apply the concept of dolus eventualis - whether Pistorius knew that a death would be a likely result of his actions.

Pistorius indicated in court documents he intended to mount an appeal at the highest court in South Africa, the Constitutional Court. This could see delays of many more months.

Bail has been set at 10,000 rand ($NZ1035) Pistorius was deemed not to be a flight risk by Judge Audrey Ledwaba.

Pistorius can remain under house arrest at his uncle's home until sentencing next year, and will be electronically tagged. He also has to hand over his passport.

He will be able to leave the house between 07:00 and midday, but will only be able to move within a 20km (12 miles) radius.

The double amputee's bail application also revealed that he had enrolled to study "a BSc business with law degree" at the London School of Economics. The university does not offer that degree nor correspondence courses, but believes the athlete may have been referring to a course offered internationally through the University of London, whose academic direction is decided by the LSE, British media report.

'Human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions'

Last week in their written judgement the panel of appeal judges described the case as "a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions."

Reading the unanimous ruling reached by the five judges, Justice Eric Leach said that having armed himself with a high-calibre weapon, Pistorius must have foreseen that whoever was behind the door might die, especially given his firearms training.

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

Pistorius with Reeva Steenkamp, who died on Valentine's Day 2013. Photo: AFP

Pistorius always maintained that he believed there was an intruder in the house - but the judge said that the identity of the person behind the door was "irrelevant to his guilt".

Justice Leach compared it to someone setting off a bomb in a public place not knowing who the victims might be.

The judge also rejected the argument that Pistorius had acted in self-defence.

He said that the athlete's life was not in danger at the time of the shooting, as Pistorius did not know who was behind the door or if they posed a threat.

The judge added that Pistorius did "not take that most elementary precaution of firing a warning shot".

Ms Steenkamp's mother, June, was present and afterwards she was seen outside the court being embraced by members of the African National Congress Women's League, who were singing songs of celebration.

Correspondents say many in South Africa were upset by the original acquittal on murder charges, with women's rights groups arguing he should have been found guilty of murder as a deterrent because of the high number of women who are killed by their partners in the country.

The double amputee was released from prison on 19 October as he was eligible for release under "correctional supervision", having served a sixth of his sentence.

Pistorius can challenge the latest ruling in the constitutional court but only if his lawyers can argue that his constitutional rights have been violated.


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