Oscar Pistorius: Prosecutors to appeal 'shockingly lenient' sentence

Jul 21, 2016

Six-year jail term has 'potential to bring the administration of justice into disrepute', they say

South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has announced it will appeal Oscar Pistorius's six-year prison sentence for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutors described the term as "shockingly too lenient" and "disproportionate to the crime of murder committed".

Branding the sentence "an injustice", the NPA claimed it had the "potential to bring the administration of justice into disrepute".

The state plans to file papers to apply to leave to appeal today.

Pistorius's lawyers have previously said that they would not appeal against the sentence handed out by High Court judge Thokozile Masipa on 6 July.

Masipa said she believed there were "substantial and compelling" reasons to reduce the normal 15-year minimum sentence for murder, including Pistorius's remorse and false belief that Steenkamp was an intruder.

The athlete shot Steenkamp four times through the door of his toilet on Valentine's Day in 2013.

South African defence lawyer William Booth told News 24 earlier this month that Pistorius may serve less than six years in total. His sentence could be converted to correctional supervision after around three years, he added.

"The period that he may effectively serve is quite a bit less than six years, as long as he complies with all the regulations," said Booth. "This is not a given, these are just the legal possibilities, they are not definite."

Oscar Pistorius 'got off lightly' with six-year sentence

21 July

Former Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was yesterday sentenced to six years in jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day in 2013.

There is a "prevailing sense that Pistorius got off lightly", says the BBC's Pumza Fihlani, who adds: "I cannot remember a time when someone convicted of murder was sentenced to just six years in South Africa."

In the eyes of the "man on the street", she continues, Judge Thokozile Masipa has "failed Reeva Steenkamp" – and the reaction on social media and in the South African media has been one of shock and anger.

The sentence was called an "insult to women" by political party the ANC, while the South African commission on gender equality said it was also disappointed and that a six-year term belittles the experiences of the victims of gender-based violence.

However, Masipa was at pains to insist Pistorius's crime could not be considered as gender-based because, in the view of the High Court, he did not know it was Steenkamp when he opened fire.

The sentence was based on the judgment that the athlete thought there was an intruder in his house on the night of Steenkamp's death, says the BBC, something he maintained throughout the trial.

In addition, the judge accepted as a mitigating factor that Pistorius's disability – he did not have his prosthetic legs on – also made him feel vulnerable.

Reaction on social media has been largely negative, with many seeing the sentence as unduly lenient and suggesting Pistorius's ethnicity might have helped him get off lightly. 

Writing in The Independent, Holly Baxter says a South African court recently sentenced a rhino poacher to 77 years for killing three rhino calves and his accomplice. She predicts the "rich, white, famous, sports star murderer... could easily be out within a year".

For the South African Daily Maverick, the "laughable" sentence is a "reality check on the continued triumph of exceptionalism and white privilege in our society".

However, Pistorius's relatives feel Masipa's verdict is a wise one. His brother, Carl, praised the judge as a "remarkable woman" and said he had the "utmost respect" for her.

Oscar Pistorius sentenced to six years in prison for murder of Reeva Steenkamp

6 July

Oscar Pistorius will serve six years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The sentence is far less than South Africa's usual 15-year minimum. Talking about the mitigating factors, Judge Thokozile Masipa said Pistorius was "vulnerable" without his protheses and had taken immediate steps to try to save Steenkamp's life after she was shot.

Masipa disagreed with the state's claim that Pistorius showed no remorse and said that it is a "misperception" that there was an argument between Pistorius and Steenkamp before she was shot and killed.

"Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court," she said.

South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and "some say a short sentence will send the wrong message to would-be-offenders", the BBC reports. The Women's League of the ruling ANC party called the sentence "an insult to women."

Here's how the sentencing unfolded this morning:

9.35am: Oscar Pistorius will not receive the full 15-year sentence for murder. Instead he will serve six years in prison.

Judge Thokozile Masipa has said she disagrees with the state's claim that Pistorius showed no genuine remorse. He apologised in court and has "previously and unsuccessfully" tried to contact Steenkamp's family more than once. 

Masipa acknowledges the very "real pain" suffered by Steenkamp's family, but said it is a "misperception" that there was an argument between Pistorius and Steenkamp before she was shot and killed.

Pistorius has been convicted of "murder dolus eventualis" not "murder dolus directus", which implies a higher degree of direct intent rather than recklessness. "Our courts are courts of law, not courts of public opinion," she says. "Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court."

Talking about the mitigating factors, Masipa says Pistorius was "vulnerable" without his protheses and had taken immediate steps to try to save Steenkamp's life after she was shot.

Although the defence wanted a non-custodial sentence, deterrence and retribution are also important, says Masipa.

9.00am: Judge Thokozile Masipa, who presided over the original trial, has been setting out what has happened so far in Oscar Pistorius's case.

She reminds the court of the original finding, the appeal and the decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the first verdict.

Masipa says she must decide whether there is any cause to reduce the 15-year minimum sentence.Pistorius has displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, she says, also noting that his mother had anxiety around crime during his childhood.

The judge says Steenkamp's family continues to suffer as a result of her death, but also makes a point of dispelling misconceptions about the case. She says this was not a case of gender violence. "There is no indication at all that the deceased was in an abusive relationship," Masipa tells the court.

Society's expectations for punishment "cannot be legitimate if they are based on wrong perceptions", says the judge.

Under South African law, the court must impose the minimum sentence of 15 years for murder unless there are "substantial and compelling" reasons to reduce it.

8.30am: Oscar Pistorius will today learn how long he will spend in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 29, has already served nine months of the five-year sentence for culpable homicide he was given in 2014, which was changed to murder last December following an appeal by the state.

The former Paralympic and Olympic athlete – known as the Blade Runner – could now spend at least 15 years behind bars, the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa. This could be reduced if mitigating factors are taken into account, such as his disability.

Appearing at a pre-sentence hearing last month, Pistorius removed his prosthetic legs and walked across the courtroom at the request of his own defence team. "His unsteady gait sought to remind the judge of his vulnerability, which could be a mitigating factor," the BBC reports.

The athlete has also expressed remorse over the events of 14 February 2013, when he shot 29-year-old Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door of his home, claiming he mistook her for an intruder.

"Many legal experts believe he will not serve the full 15-year jail term, with many expecting him to serve anything up to eight years behind bars," News.au.com reports.

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