Oscar Pistorius out of legal options as request to appeal rejected
Former star athlete loses bid to cut 13-year jail term for murder of Reeva Steenkamp
Why Oscar Pistorius's request to appeal murder conviction failed
Oscar Pistorius has been denied the chance to appeal against his murder conviction, three years after the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that an appeal would have no realistic prospect of success. The decision clears the way for an April sentencing, reports CNN.
Pistorius was initially convicted of culpable homicide in 2014 and sentenced to five years in prison for killing Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria. The former Paralympian shot her through a locked bathroom door.
He was released last year to serve the rest of his sentence under house detention at his uncle's home in Pretoria.
In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned his conviction on a point of law and he was found guilty of murder. He was released on bail with an electronic monitoring device and only permitted to travel a limited distance between 7am and noon.
The original verdict rested on Judge Thokozile Masipa accepting Pistorius's claim that he believed he was firing at an intruder. However, as the athlete had shot another person, whoever he believed it to be, he was found guilty of culpable homicide.
Judge Masipa held back from a murder conviction on the very specific legal principle of dolus eventualis, saying there was not enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Pistorius had foreseen his actions would result in a death. It was on this point that the Supreme Court of Appeal disagreed.
Arguing for an appeal, Pistorius's legal team said the second court had ignored his vulnerability as a person with a disability and had wrongly rejected the original judgment that he had acted out of fear when he opened fire. However, this was dismissed by the Constitutional Court on 3 March, meaning resentencing will take place on 18 April.
What will happen at the resentencing?
Pistorius will return to the high court, where a judge will reconsider his sentence.
The defence is expected to put forward mitigating factors in a bid to negotiate a lesser sentence than the prescribed minimum of 15 years in prison, minus time already served.
Criminal law expert Tyrone Maseko told South Africa's 702 radio station there would have to be "substantial and compelling" reasons to depart from the minimum sentence. He said it was "not easy" to succeed, unless there are concrete reasons why leniency should be shown.
A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa has confirmed the state will be seeking the full 15-year term.
The defence and prosecution may well set out their cases in front of the original trial judge, Thokozile Masipa, although Maseko said another judge could stand in if she is not available.
Commentators in South Africa have described the resentencing as the "final conclusion" in the trial, which began in 2014 and has crossed several courts within the criminal justice system. But while Pistorius cannot appeal his conviction, he could theoretically appeal his sentence.
Oscar Pistorius 'enrolled on law degree at a London university
Oscar Pistorius revealed yesterday that he is studying a business with law degree through a London university, as he was bailed for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
In his affidavit at the bail hearing, he said: "I have enrolled at the London School of Economics for a BSc business with law degree. I study by way of correspondence and need daily access to the internet for this purpose."
However, LSE has said there is no business and law BSc taught at the university. The Guardian suggests Pistorius might have been referring to a BSc in management and law, which is offered as an international programme by the University of London and for which LSE provides academic direction.
LSE is one of the colleges of the University of London and a world-leading social science institution.
The University of London website states that the degree is suitable for people who wish to pursue a career in management; are seeking employment where a demonstrated ability for logical reasoning is required; and would like to study courses that have relevance to their experience and local environment.
Students have between three and eight years to complete the course, or a minimum of two years on the graduate entry route, while fees are £4,205 or £3,175 as a graduate.
Pistorius began a business management degree at the University of Pretoria in 2006 but it is "unclear if he ever completed it as his sporting career took off", says The Guardian.
Pistorius, who shot and killed Steenkamp in February 2013, was yesterday granted bail of R10,000 (£460) after his defence lawyer Barry Roux argued that he could not afford to pay any more.
He is planning to appeal the Supreme Court of Appeal's decision to change his conviction of culpable homicide to murder.
Oscar Pistorius: why athlete has been granted bail
Oscar Pistorius has been released on bail until he returns to court in April next year.
The athlete's conviction for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was last week changed from culpable homicide to murder.
Today, his defence lawyer Barry Roux revealed that an application for leave to appeal would be brought to the Constitutional Court.
He requested that Pistorius remains at the home of his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, until the appeal or – if the appeal is unsuccessful – he returns to the High Court for sentencing.
Judge Aubrey Ledwaba agreed to release Pistorius on bail of 10,000 rand (around £460) and postponed the case until 18 April 2016.
Ledwaba said Pistorius had proven that he is not a flight risk and had kept his bail conditions, even when facing possible life imprisonment, when charged with premeditated murder before and during his original trial.
Pistorius will return to his uncle's house but must not leave the district of Tshwane and must surrender his passport. The athlete will be electronically tagged and must submit travel plans to his investigating officer.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel did not oppose bail, but argued that Pistorius needed 24/7 monitoring now that he has been convicted of murder. "We feel strongly that he should not leave the house at any time," he said.
However, the judge said this was not in the interests of justice. Pistorius will therefore be able to leave the house every day between 7am and midday and can travel within a 20km radius of his uncle's home.
Pistorius was present in court, but spoke only to confirm that the affidavit was in his name, reports The Guardian.
Defence lawyer Roux told the court that Pistorius could no longer afford the much higher bail of one million rand, initially agreed when Pistorius was first released after Steenkamp's death in February 2013. The 10,000 rand must be paid by this Friday.
Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder: photos offer insight into prison
Oscar Pistorius's conviction for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has been changed from culpable homicide to murder.
Justice Lorimer Leach, one of the five judges at South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, said the original verdict was "flawed", as Pistorius must have foreseen that firing into the small toilet cubicle in his home would have led to the death of the person he knew was inside.
In the original trial last year, Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors had failed to prove this beyond all reasonable doubt. She accepted that Pistorius genuinely believed there was an intruder behind the door rather than his girlfriend.
In today's ruling, Justice Lorimer Leach said the identity of the person behind the door was irrelevant, the BBC reports.
The fact that Pistorius armed himself with a high-calibre weapon and shot into a small toilet cubicle showed he must have foreseen that the person might die.
The athlete, who is currently under house arrest at his uncle's home in Pretoria, will now be re-sentenced by the original court and looks certain to return to jail, as a murder conviction carries a minimum of 15 years in South Africa.
The decision comes days after reporters were offered a closer look inside the prison where Pistorius spent most of the past year.
Pictures of his cell at Kgosi Mampuri II Prison show a small room with a basic sink, bed and table underneath a large curtained window.
The Department of Correctional Services said it wanted journalists to see prison conditions for themselves, rather than rely on sources from within the justice system, and denied suggestions that Pistorius had been given any special treatment while behind bars.
One photograph showed a bathroom that Pistorius would have used, complete with several hand rails. From outside the building, inmates could be seen sitting on their window sills, some dangling their legs over the edge.
Acting regional commissioner of Gauteng, Mandla Mkabela, told reporters: "Oscar Pistorius did not receive any preferential treatment while he was under our care.
"We have a duty to ensure that an inmate is not assaulted, raped or victimised. He was entitled to the same conditions while he was in our care.
"He was the first double-amputee inmate we had in our department. We never gave him special treatment but we treated him according to his needs."
Oscar Pistorius appeal: did prosecutors sway the judges?
Oscar Pistorius's defence lawyer Barry Roux faced tough questioning from five of South Africa's top judges yesterday as he attempted to keep the Olympian and Paralympian out of prison.
Roux was in the Supreme Court of Appeal to fight an appeal by the state, which claims Pistorius should have been convicted of murder rather than culpable homicide for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013.
Pistorius claimed he thought his life was at risk from a dangerous intruder when he fired four shots into a closed toilet door in his home. Last year, Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors had failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Pistorius knew his shots would lead to the death of another person, be it Steenkamp or an apparent intruder.
But yesterday prosecutor Gerrie Nel forcefully argued that Pistorius must have known his shots would kill and the conviction should therefore have been murder.
The panel of judges has now listened to both sides and is expected to announce its verdict before the end of the year. The judge leading the panel that will decide Pistorius's fate is Lex Mpati, president of the Supreme Court of Appeal and chancellor of Rhodes University.
Mpati, a former cattle herder and petrol pump attendant, started his law degree at the age of 30 and later became the first black judge to be permanently appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal. Judge Nonkosi Mhlanthla, judge Eric Leach, judge Steven Majiedt and acting judge Elizabeth Baartman are also on the panel. Their decision will be based on a majority rule.
So were they swayed by either side?
Ulrich Roux, a defence attorney of no relation to Barry Roux, said the defence was forced to think on its feet.
"Judge Leach was very hard on Barry Roux and asked him some difficult questions especially pertaining to how it is possible that the respondent, or Oscar, could not have foreseen that firing those shots into the door could lead to the death of a person," he told News24.
In his comments in court, Leach suggested that Masipa might have made a mistake. "If you put four shots through that door you must surely see you will shoot someone," he said.
Nevertheless, Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in criminal justice at University of Cape Town, argued that it was difficult to say which way the court might lean.
"We got glimpses of how individual judges were leaning on specific aspects but that doesn't give us at all a realistic indication of where the majority voices are leaning," she said. "In terms of the theatre we saw play out today and the intensity of the questions, it was absolutely in keeping with a continuum of what you would expect from the Supreme Court of Appeal."
Phelps agreed with Ulrich Roux that the defence received "more aggressive" questioning, but added: "Again that doesn't tell us where the judges' opinion rested in terms of the answers he provided to those questions. I think both teams have got certain significant hurdles to overcome to win this case."
Oscar Pistorius 'cannot escape' murder verdict, claims Nel
Prosecutors are in South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal today in a bid to persuade a panel of judges that Oscar Pistorius should be convicted of murder rather than culpable homicide.
Pistorius, who shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February 2013, left prison last month to serve the rest of his five-year sentence under correctional supervision.
State lawyer Gerrie Nel, whose legal jousting became a familiar sight in the Pistorius trial, is arguing that Judge Thokozile Masipa last year erred in her application of dolus eventualis, a legal term for when the perpetrator foresees the possibility of his action causing death and persists regardless.
He stands before a panel of five people: judge president Lex Mpati; judge Nonkosi Mhlantla; judge Eric Leach; judge Steven Majiedt; and acting judge Elizabeth Baartman.
Pistorius, who is not in court, could face a 15-year prison sentence if the Supreme Court decides to impose a murder conviction.
"On the objective facts, the accused cannot escape a verdict of murder," Nel has told the court.
He claims Masipa ignored circumstantial evidence, looking at it piece by piece, rather than as a "mosaic".
Pistorius offered conflicting defences, such as self-defence to justify the shooting but then a lack of intention to kill, says Nel. He insists that the fact Pistorius fired four shots into a toilet door shows his intention to kill a person, regardless of whether he knew it was Steenkamp or if he believed it was an intruder.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux has argued that the state's appeal is not based on questions of law but questions of fact and therefore cannot be considered by the Supreme Court. He insists Masipa did not ignore circumstantial evidence, as Nel has claimed. She dealt with "every aspect" in her ruling, he says.
The judges have asked difficult questions of both lawyers. Judge Leach gets to the crux of the appeal, pointing out that the "very restricted" size of the toilet cubicle meant there was "no place to hide" for whoever Pistorius believed was behind the door. "If you put four shots through that door you must surely see you will shoot someone," he tells Roux. He adds that if a judge fails to apply herself to all of the evidence, that is misapplication of law. Leach questions that Pistorius believed his life was in danger and challenges Roux to prove how this was shown in last year's trial. Roux points to Masipa's ruling, which says four times that there is no evidence to show that Pistorius did not think his life was in danger.
Oscar Pistorius: why state might have strong case for murder
South African prosecutors have a strong case to elevate Oscar Pistorius's culpable homicide conviction to murder, a criminal law expert has suggested.
William Booth told News24 that "one doesn't have to be a fantastic lawyer" to determine that the facts of the Pistorius case equal murder.
Pistorius was released from prison on 19 October to serve the rest of his five year sentence under house arrest for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013.
However, his respite may not last long as the state is due to appeal against his conviction tomorrow in the Supreme Court.
"My feeling has always been that if you look at the facts – four shots into a tiny little toilet knowing that there is somebody behind the door and that person isn't attacking Oscar – well does that not really equal murder? I mean, one doesn't have to be a fantastic lawyer to determine that," said Booth.
Under South African law, a judge's factual findings in a case cannot be appealed. Instead, prosecutors will argue on 3 November that Judge Thokozile Masipa was mistaken in her application of the law when she convicted Pistorius last year and that a different court could reach a different decision – namely that Pistorius should have been convicted of murder, not culpable homicide.
Nevertheless, Booth says the Supreme Court will need to look at the definitions of murder and culpable homicide and use the facts to see whether the prosecution has proved the charges beyond all reasonable doubt.
"I believe they have a fairly good argument based on the facts of the case," said Booth.
In giving her verdict last year, Masipa said that the state had failed to prove the case was "murder dolus eventualis", a legal term for when the perpetrator foresees the possibility of his action causing death and persists regardless. This is one point of law that the prosecution claims Masipa might have erred on.
State prosecutors and Pistorius's defence team will present their cases to a panel of five judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein tomorrow.
The proceedings are scheduled to last one day, with the judges expected to announce a future date to deliver their ruling.
They could decide to reject the appeal, to order a retrial or to convict Pistorius of murder themselves, which would mean a minimum prison sentence of 15 years for the athlete.
Johan Engelbrecht, a former acting judge, told The Citizen that Pistorius is unlikely to face a new trial. He said the Appeal Court is more likely to exercise its right to substitute Masipa's culpable homicide verdict with a murder verdict.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux has previously argued that Pistorius cannot afford a new trial and that he could not be tried twice for the same crime under double jeopardy laws.
The panel will be led by Lex Mpati, president of the Supreme Court of Appeal and chancellor of Rhodes University.
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