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Oscar Pistorius’ seven months trial has finally come to an end as he has been sentenced to to five years in prison by South African judge, Thokozile Masipa for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
In her judgment, Judge Masipa said Mr Pistorius had acted “negligently” when he fired four times through a lavatory cubicle door, killing Ms Steenkamp. But she accepted that he had genuinely mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder, and dismissed charges of murder and premeditated murder.
The 63-year-old judge, a former journalist and social worker, went to great lengths to explain her reasoning. Sentencing is about “proportionality”, the judge emphasised, and an appropriate sentence must be “neither too light nor too severe”. Judge Masipa disregarded much of the terrifyingly negative evidence on prison conditions from probation officer Annette Vergeer, a paid defence witness, and said she accepted that South Africa’s correctional services department can accommodate disabled inmates. “It would be a sad day for this country if an impression was created that there is one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous,” Judge Masipa said.
The Pistorius family’s reaction was grim but resigned. Arnold Pistorius, an uncle, told reporters that “Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back society.” Pistorius, looking dazed, was calmly removed from the courtroom and booked into Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II prison. Ms Steenkamp’s parents and friends seemed accepting of the sentence, and simply relieved the trial was over. “It’s right,” said her mother, June Steekamp, smiling gently, as she left the courtroom. But the public response appears to be far more negative. The seemingly light sentence handed down to Mr Pistorius will do little to dispel widely held perceptions of “chequebook justice” in South Africa. City Press, a South African weekly, estimated Mr Pistorius’ legal costs at 3.7m rand ($337,000) during trial days alone.
In the end Mr Pistorius may only serve one-sixth of his sentence—or ten months—behind bars, his lawyers said. The rest may be served under house arrest. The state may yet appeal Judge Masipa’s dismissal of the murder charge, and it has two weeks to decide whether to do so. A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority said it was “disappointing” that Mr Pistorius was convicted only of culpable homicide, as manslaughter is known in South Africa, and not murder, though he said the jail time was a “consolation”.
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