Pistorius’s six-year sentence ‘shockingly light’, court hears

Prosecution urges longer term for former Olympian who murdered girlfriend in 2013

  Oscar Pistorius in court  for sentencing last year. The prosecution is appealing his six-year sentence for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.  Photograph: Kim Ludbrook/Reuters

Oscar Pistorius in court for sentencing last year. The prosecution is appealing his six-year sentence for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Photograph: Kim Ludbrook/Reuters

 

A judge “overemphasised” Oscar Pistorius’s disability and was far too lenient on him, prosecutors said as they tried to convince a South African court to more than double his prison sentence for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

“Murder is murder,” chief prosecutor Andrea Johnson told a five-judge panel at the supreme court of appeal.

She asked the judges to overturn the double-amputee athlete’s initial six-year sentence and give him the prescribed minimum of 15 years.

If the court agrees, Pistorius (30) could remain in prison until after he is 40.

The judges did not deliver a decision on Friday. Typically, supreme court judges take a couple of weeks before the senior judge returns to read out the decision, which is made through a simple majority.

Nearly five years after the Olympic runner first appeared in court for shooting Ms Steenkamp multiple times through a closed toilet door at his home, his fate is still not certain.

He was not at Friday’s hearing as he serves his sentence at a prison near the capital, Pretoria. He has served more than a year of his six-year term.

Ms Steenkamp’s mother, June Steenkamp, did attend. Speaking outside the courthouse, her lawyer said the family supported prosecutors’ attempt to get a longer sentence.

Prosecutors had two arguments to make to the court. First, they needed to apply for permission to appeal against Pistorius’s sentence. They were asked by the judges to also present their arguments for why, if their appeal is allowed, his sentence should be increased.

Challenge

This is the second time prosecutors have gone to the supreme court in Bloemfontein to challenge a decision by judge Thokozile Masipa, who presided over Pistorius’s trial.

In 2015, prosecutors successfully appealed against Ms Masipa’s ruling that Pistorius was not guilty of murder. The court overturned the verdict of culpable homicide – or manslaughter – and convicted him of murder.

Ms Masipa then sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison for murder, a term just one year longer than her original sentence for manslaughter. Prosecutors called that sentence “shockingly” light.

Judges can deviate from prescribed minimum sentences if there are compelling circumstances. The prosecution says there were no compelling reasons.

“What we are saying is the court exercised its discretion inappropriately,” Ms Johnson said, calling the six-year sentence “unjust”.

She said Pistorius had still not shown “genuine remorse” for killing Ms Steenkamp and that Ms Masipa put the athlete’s personal circumstances and his disability ahead of the need for “retribution” when she sentenced him.

Pistorius claimed he mistook Ms Steenkamp for a dangerous intruder hiding in his bathroom in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 when, without his prosthetic legs on and standing on his stumps, he shot four times through the cubicle door.

Ms Masipa’s initial sentence was appropriate in the circumstances, Pistorius’s defence lawyers said, and his disability was not exaggerated. He had both his legs amputated below the knee when he was a baby because of a congenital condition.

“Of course his disability is mentioned, but it can’t not be mentioned,” defence lawyer Kelly Phelps said. “It is one of the factors of this case. We can’t magic away his disability.” – AP