The story captivated the globe – a handsome Paralympic Gold medallist, his glamorous model girlfriend and the mystery surrounding her killing. Now, the South African Court of Appeal has more than doubled Oscar Pistorius’ sentence.
Last year, millions watched as the ‘Bladerunner’ was found guilty of shooting and killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013, and sentenced to six years in prison.
Opinions were divided on the original sentence. In South Africa, the minimum sentence for murder is 15 years in prison, but courts can reduce the penalty of there are ‘substantial and compelling’ reasons to do so.
Many were outraged at the leniency of the six-year term. Victims’ groups called it an insult to all women in South Africa. Others went so far as to say that the female judge was an ‘embarrassment’ to the justice system. Even lawyers went on record saying the sentence was much lighter than expected.
The backlash led to Judge Maispa having to publicly defend the exercise of her discretion, explaining that she considered a wide range of factors before deciding to reduce the sentence.
Prosecutors had 14 days from the date of sentencing to lodge an appeal, which they did, describing the penalty as “shockingly lenient” and “inappropriate”.
In the Court of Appeal, lawyers for the prosecution argued that Pistorius’ disability should not have been a mitigating factor. They further submitted that his tears during the trial were not due to his remorse, but because of his own predicament.
The panel of five judges unanimously upheld the prosecution’s appeal, increasing the sentence to 13 years and five months.
One of the judges expressed the view that Pistorius failed to explain why he opened fire, killing Reeva Steenkamp, and that the former athlete “does not appreciate the gravity of his actions.”
“I find it difficult on the evidence to accept that the respondent is genuinely remorseful”, he remarked.
The judge found that the seriousness of the crime demanded a severe sentence, and that the original six years had the effect of ‘trivialising’ the conduct.
A long road
It’s been a long and drawn out court case for Pistorius – a man who lost both of his legs as the result of a congenital defect, and rose to stardom after becoming the first amputee to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.
He was initially convicted of manslaughter, but had that conviction overturned and replaced with murder by the Supreme Court.
Pistorius has steadfastly maintained his innocence – explaining that he believed his girlfriend was an unwelcome intruder in his apartment, and that he feared for his safety when he shot her through the bathroom door.
Pistorius’ family says he’s ‘shattered and heartbroken’ by the decision to increase the sentence.
Under the initial sentence, the double-amputee could have been released on parole as early as mid-2019.
Now, the earliest he will be eligible for parole is 2023, and he may be moved to a higher-security facility.
His lawyers say there is only one avenue left to challenge the new sentence, and that is via the constitutional court – the highest court in South Africa.
A decision has not yet been made regarding whether to lodge an appeal against the severity of the latest sentence.
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