Oscar Pistorius: prosecution has 'appetite' to appeal
State weighs up its options to appeal against verdict as Oscar Pistorius spends first night in prison
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority is considering whether to appeal against Oscar Pistorius's culpable homicide verdict.
The athlete was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year and has spent his first night in Kgosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria.
Pistorius's defence lawyers suggested that he could serve just ten months in jail, a period only slightly longer than the duration of his trial.
His family told reporters that he did not intend to lodge an appeal and would "embrace" the opportunity to "pay back to society".
The NPA, however, has indicated that it has an "appetite" to appeal. "We have always stated first and foremost that we were disappointed with the conviction," NPA spokesman Nathi Mncube told reporters. "But we do find solace in the fact the accused will serve some time in prison."
Both sides have the opportunity to appeal within 14 days. Mncube said the NPA would use this time to consider whether the facts and the law allowed them to appeal, and suggested that the state would appeal the verdict, but not the sentence.
"It is not a straightforward matter because there is law we have to consider, to ensure that if we do take the matter to appeal, we are able to support the decision. But hopefully we will able to do so," he said.
Some South African lawyers questioned whether Judge Thokozile Masipa had erred in clearing Pistorius of murder last month.
In explaining why she could only convict him on culpable homicide, Masipa acknowledged that a "reasonable" person with Pistorius's disabilities would have foreseen that shooting into the door may have killed the person inside. However, she said South African law warns against automatically assuming that because a perpetrator "should have" foreseen the consequences of his actions that he actually did.
She said that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius foresaw the fatal consequences of his actions when he shot at the door, meaning she could not convict him on a murder charge.
Oscar Pistorius: is five years in prison justice for Reeva?
After an emotional seven-month trial, Oscar Pistorius was calm and composed today as Judge Thokozile Masipa sentenced him to five years in prison – but outside the courtroom, reactions were more extreme.
The defence team said it expects the athlete to serve only ten months behind bars and the remainder under house arrest, while the prosecution believe he will have to serve at least 20 months.
The prospect of Pistorius leaving jail within a year provoked outrage on Twitter, with the hashtag #Nojustice trending worldwide.
Sky News reporter Robert Nisbet said the overwhelming reaction on the streets of Pretoria was also negative. "He took the soul of another person. How can that be right?" one man said outside the court.
But Reeva Steenkamp's mother June says justice has been served. She told reporters "it doesn't matter" that Pistorius could be out of prison in ten months. "He's going to pay something," she said.
Pistorius's family also said they were satisfied with the sentence and added that the athlete will "embrace this opportunity to pay back to society".
Professor Stephen Tuson, of Wits School of Law, told News24 it would be "inadvisable" for Pistorius to appeal against the sentence as he "got off lightly" for culpable homicide.
Masipa sentenced the athlete to a maximum imprisonment of five years for killing Reeva and a concurrent three-year prison sentence, suspended for five years, for discharging a firearm in a Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013.
In The Independent, Chris Maume says Masipa "might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice". A non-custodial sentence would have "sent the wrong message" that if you are famous enough, you can get away with manslaughter, while a longer hail sentence "would have felt like grandstanding", says Maume.
But in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins thinks Pistorius should not be going to jail at all. Masipa's argument was "meticulously reasoned", says Jenkins, but "beyond the cause of consistency, imprisoning Pistorius can serve no purpose".
He describes imprisonment as "brutalism" and says no one will be more or less deterred by the length of his sentence.
"Finding why he behaved as he did, and working to prevent others doing likewise, would be the most useful outcome of his crime. That is unlikely to happen in a prison."
Oscar Pistorius sentenced to five years in prison
Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to five years in prison for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot dead on Valentine's Day last year.
In a court in Pretoria, Judge Masipa also handed Pistorius a three-year sentence, suspended for five years, for negligently discharging a firearm in a crowded restaurant in Johannesburg in January 2013.
The two sentences will run concurrently.
The prosecution had wanted Pistorius to serve at least ten years in prison, while his own lawyers had argued that he should serve a three-year community-based sentence, such as 16 hours of domestic cleaning a month.
Immediately after the verdict was read out, members of the athlete's family told reporters that there would be no appeal against the sentence, and that they expected Pistorius to go directly to prison. His legal team said their understanding was that he will have to serve ten months, one sixth of his sentence, in prison before being considered for house arrest.
However, Nathi Mncube, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, suggested Pistorius would have to serve at least one third of the prison sentence, around 20 months, in jail. He added that the NPA has an "appetite" to appeal but has not made a decision to do so yet. Both sides have two weeks in which to lodge an appeal.
Here is what the court heard:
9.35am: Oscar Pistorius is asked to stand for his sentence. Masipa says on count one of culpable homicide, he should serve a maximum of five years in prison. On count two, three years imprisonment, suspended for five years with the condition that the accused is not found guilty of a crime where there is negligence with the use of a firearm. The sentence in count one and count two shall run concurrently.
9.30am: Judge Masipa is looking at the sentencing guidelines from case law, including the cases raised by the defence in which the accused was convicted of culpable homicide but escaped prison. Masipa says that in her view "none of these cases are important". She outlines why she thinks facts in these cases are "dissimilar" to those in the present case.
She says that the degree of negligence in Pistorius's case means that the sentence put forward by the defence witnesses would "not be appropriate" considering the circumstances.
9.10am: Masipa runs through the mitigating and aggravating factors in sentencing. The facts that Pistorius shot not one but four shots into a small toilet cubicle and had undergone training in firearms are "very aggravating", she says. However, he is a first offender and seems remorseful. She accepts the defence's evidence that he had tried to apologise to Reeva's parents privately but they were not ready so the attempt failed. Masipa says she disagrees with the state that mental and physical facts should not be taken into account in sentencing because they had already been taken into account in the conviction. Mental and physical factors "ought to be considered together with other relevant factors", she says.
The judge states that society cannot always gets what it wants. "Courts do not exist to win popularity contests but exist solely to dispense justice," she says. Nothing I say or do today can reverse what happened to the victim, says Masipa.
9.00am: Masipa says she is satisfied that prisons can accommodate prisoners with the accused's needs and says she has no reason to believe that Pistorius would present Correctional Services with an "insurmountable challenge". For example, if he needs a bench in the shower it would be "unreasonable" to think that he would not be provided with one.
It cannot be disputed that a pregnant woman belongs to one of the most vulnerable groups of people, says Masipa. Yet a pregnant woman will be sentenced to jail if such a sentence is warranted.
The judge says it would be a "sad day for this country" if the court created an impression that there is one law for the poor and one law for the rich and famous.
Masipa admits she had "a feeling of unease" over the defence's "overemphasis" of the accused's vulnerability. Yes, he is vulnerable but he also has excellent coping skills, she says. Thanks to his mother, he rarely saw himself as disabled and excelled as a top athlete against the odds, even competing against non-disabled athletes.
8.55am: Masipa is summarising the evidence from the prosecution witnesses. The prosecution called:
- Kim Martin: Reeva's cousin, who described the victim's life and the impact of her death on the family
- Moleko Zac Modise, the acting national commissioner of South Africa's Correctional Services department, who defended the prison service and assured the court that it could cater for Pistorius's needs
Masipa says she was not impressed by Annette Vergeer's evidence, describing it as "slapdash, disappointing and had a negative on her credibility as a witness". On the other hand, she was impressed by the evidence given by Moleko Zac Modise. She says she has no hesitation in viewing his evidence as "true and reliable".
8.45am: Judge Masipa tells the court that although she has two assessors to help her, the decision is "mine and mine alone". She said she has taken into account the nature and seriousness of the offences for which Pistorius has been convicted, as well as factors such as retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation.
Masipa is summarising the evidence from witnesses heard in the sentencing hearing. The defence called:
- Dr Lore Hartzenberg, Pistorius's personal psychologist, who held grief and trauma counselling sessions with the athlete
- Joel Maringa, a social worker from the Department of Correctional Services, who recommended a three-year community based sentence
- Peet van Zyl, Pistorius's agent, who detailed his client's charity work
- Annette Vergeer, a social worker and registered probation officer, who claimed that prison facilities would not cater to Pistorius's needs
Oscar Pistorius sentence: what will Judge Masipa decide?
20 October 2014
Tomorrow Oscar Pistorius will finally discover whether he faces jail time for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The prosecution wants him to serve at least ten years in prison, while his own lawyers have argued that he should serve a three-year community-based sentence, such as 16 hours of domestic cleaning a month.
The athlete's brother, Carl Pistorius, has vowed to stand by his younger sibling regardless of the sentence. "We cannot speculate ahead of final sentencing but what I do know for certain, regardless of the outcome, the three of us [himself, Oscar and their sister Aimee] will stand together and continue to stand together," he told ITV News.
Reeva's half-sister Simone Cowburn has made a plea in the Daily Mail for Judge Thokozile Masipa to hand down a heavy prison sentence. "Community service and house arrest are ridiculous," she told the newspaper. "These should be for people who are stealing or other minor offences. Not shooting somebody. Reeva deserves justice."
South Africa's Correctional Services department today denied claims that it had already prepared a prison cell for the Paralympian at Kgosi Mampuru II, formerly known as Pretoria Central Prison.
Even if Pistorius is handed a prison sentence, he could still have up to 14 days of freedom if he decides to appeal against his sentence or conviction, says South Africa's New Age newspaper.
Judge Masipa would have to hear the appeal submissions within the next two weeks and decide whether or not another court might come to a different conclusion. However, she could decide to refuse any request for bail following the sentencing tomorrow.
Other commentators in South Africa are hoping that the legacy of the trial will reach beyond Pistorius and improve conditions for the thousands of less recognisable South Africans in prison.
Gushwell Brooks at the Daily Maverick has called for an overhaul of the whole "terrible" system. "Pistorius' defence team has compellingly argued that prison is an unsuitable and unsafe place for the athlete to rehabilitate," he says. "But this is true, too, of the thousands of other offenders living behind bars."
Robyn Leslie, who works at the Wits Justice Project, which investigates remand, detention and miscarriages of justice in South Africa, believes Pistorius's "wealth, status and notoriety" will mean any prison time will be "uneventful" for him.
Writing in The Independent, she says: "The question of Pistorius's sentence – and whether it will include time in jail – should stop fascinating South Africans and the world alike. Rather, we should use this surge of interest in our criminal justice system to shine a light on the poor, dispossessed and uninformed who are trapped perilously within it."
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