South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to six years in prison for murdering his girlfriend. The news came from a court in Pretoria, South Africa, around 4:30 a.m. ET. Pistorius was reportedly facing up to 15 years, but the judge ultimately sentenced him to six years for fatally shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He shot her four times through a closed bathroom door on Valentine's Day in 2013. Judge Thokozile Masipa, who heard his original case two years ago, presided over this hearing as well. He initially found Pistorius guilty of homicide in September 2014 and sentenced him to five years in prison. However, Pistorius ultimately only served 10 months in Kgosi Mampuru prison before being released on parole under house arrest conditions. Since being released, Pistorius has reportedly lived with his aunt and uncle.
After considering some personal information, such as Pistorius' mental state during the 2013 attack, Judge Masipa moved on to the details about the murder: "Murder is always a very serious crime. That the accused thought it was an intruder does not make it any less serious." Throughout the hearing, Masipa openly talked about the facts she was considering when starting at the base of a 15-year possible sentence and, ultimately, working her way down.
One important factor that Judge Masipa considered when sentencing Pistorius was the continued grief that Steenkamp's family faces. Masipa said that the family had “a very close bond … they feel the loss deeply” and that it's not surprising that the Steenkamps are still grieving three years later. "The pain runs deep and … the impact of the accused’s conduct on the family of the deceased has been devastating."
While Pistorius faced a potential 15-year sentence, Judge Masipa said that the court had to take the particular circumstances of the case into account. Later, she clarified that unless there are “substantial and compelling circumstances,” the court must uphold the 15-year sentence. Before getting to these mitigating factors, Judge Masipa recounted the facts of the case which justified Pistorius serving significant time in prison. For example, Pistorius used a lethal weapon, this weapon was filled with high-grade ammunition, and he fired four times. Moreover, Masipa argued that he fired into the bathroom door “knowing full well” there was someone in the bathroom, yet he did not make the decision to fire a warning shot before aiming at the door.
But the "substantial and compelling circumstances" for a shorter sentence eventually came out in the hearing. Judge Masipa argued that Pistorius was vulnerable without his prostheses at the time. Additionally, she argued that Pistorius believed the person in the bathroom was an intruder. However, once he realized that it was his girlfriend, Masipa said he “immediately took steps to try to save the deceased’s life.” Another thing that helped Pistorius' case was that the Judge thought “he was genuinely remorseful,” given the number of times and ways he had tried to privately apologize to the Steenkamp family.
Near the end of the hearing, Judge Masipa decided that those "substantial and compelling circumstances" outweighed the aggravating factors, and she sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison. She ended the hearing by acknowledging that no sentence would please everyone, and, of course, that nothing she could do would bring back Steenkamp. "The life of the accused will never be the same. He is a fallen hero … He cannot be at peace," she said of Pistorius, adding that a long-term imprisonment would not serve justice. Given that Pistorius only served a brief portion of his previous sentence, it is unlikely he will actually serve the full six years.