6 Jul 2016

Six years' jail for Oscar Pistorius

9:40 pm on 6 July 2016

South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to six years' jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, three years ago.

Oscar Pistorius arrives in court for sentencing on 6 July 2016

Oscar Pistorius arrives at court in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, for sentencing on Thursday. Photo: AFP

The 29-year-old was convicted of murder last December, after the state successfully appealed against an earlier verdict of manslaughter with a sentence of five years that prosecutors described as shockingly light.

He was taken immediately to jail. Both the prosecution and defence can appeal.

Pistorius, 29, shot Reeva Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door in February 2013.

He admitted shooting her, but said he mistook Ms Steenkamp for an intruder and acted out of fear.

In an hour-long session, Judge Thokozile Masipa said mitigating circumstances, such as rehabilitation and remorse, outweighed aggravating factors for deviating from the prescribed 15-year sentence for murder.

She ruled out the prescribed minimum jail term of 15 years for murder, saying a long term of imprisonment would not serve justice.

"Public opinion may be loud and persistent, but it can play no role in the decision of this court," High Court judge Thokozile Masipa said in her ruling.

Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius listened to the judge mostly with his head down.

Ms Steenkamp's parents, Barry and June, sat on the other side of the courtroom, which was packed with journalists and observers.

Pistorius was freed from prison last October, after almost a year behind bars, to serve out the remainder of his term under house arrest at his uncle's house in a wealthy suburb of Pretoria.

He is legally obliged to serve half of his new sentence in prison before being eligible for parole.

Right after the session, he was transferred to Khosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria.

'Delicate balancing act'

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.

The six-time Paralympic gold medallist made history by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics, in 2012 in London, running on prosthetic "blades".

The athlete had the lower part of his legs amputated when he was a baby and his lawyers had argued that his disability and mental stress should be considered as mitigating circumstances to reduce his sentence for murder.

The state said he had shown no remorse and called for him to receive no less than the minimum sentence.

Outside the court, before the sentencing, 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 attended the trial in support of the victim, clad in their green and black uniforms, were also present.

They said the sentence handed down by Justice Masipa was not sufficient.

"First five years, now six years? She is an embarrassment to the justice system," ANCWL spokeswoman Jacqueline Mofokeng said. "It is an insult to women in this country."

Johannesburg-based lawyer Ulrich Roux, who was not involved in the case, told Reuters before the sentencing that Judge Masipa, who also presided over the original trial, would have to balance any mitigating circumstances against the seriousness of Pistorius' crime.

"For her, it's a delicate balancing act," Mr Roux said, adding that either the defence or prosecution could mount a legal challenge if they felt the sentence was too lenient or harsh.

-BBC / Reuters

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