Oscar Pistorius' Sentence Is Five Years In Prison For The Death Of Reeva Steenkamp
The courtroom saga of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius came to a close on Tuesday. South African Judge Thokozile Masipa sentenced Pistorius to five years in prison for the negligent killing of his long-time girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp the night of February 14, 2013. It's a far lesser sentence than the minimum 25 years in prison the famed Olympian runner initially faced; Pistorius was acquitted of murder but found guilty of culpable homicide, which carries no minimum sentence in South Africa.
Masipa sought to strike a balance with her sentence, dismissing the defense's call for house arrest and community service, but also rejecting the prosecution's suggestion of 10 years in prison. She seemed to caution both sides while reading her decision, stating that the court can't be swayed by Pistorius' global popularity or wealthy status. "Society cannot always get what they want as courts do not accept to win popularity contests but solely to dispense justice," Masipa said.
In crafting her sentence, the judge said it couldn't be too light or too severe. She called the facts of the case "very aggravating" as she outlined the night Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp while she hid in the bathroom:
Using a lethal weapon, a loaded firearm, the accused shot not one by four bullets through the door. ... In the present case the aim was to shoot the intruder. The toilet was a small cubicle. An intruder would have had no room to maneuver or to escape and what is more, the accused knew this fact.
Over the last week, both the prosecution and defense invited witnesses to testify, as the Steenkamp family quietly wiped their tears in the back of the courtroom. Witnesses for the defense called for the Olympic runner to stay out of prison, angering many with their suggestions of community service and house arrest as a fair sentence.
Probation officer Annette Vergeer told the judge during last Tuesday's sentence hearing that Pistorius would be extremely vulnerable in prison as a double-amputee who needs special services. The prison population, Vergeer said, would "break" him. "How can we say Pistorius will not be a victim of gang rape?" Vergeer asked.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel immediately decried the house arrest suggestion, calling it "shockingly repulsive." While the defense reiterated that Pistorius had suffered enough grief — and a tarnished reputation — over Steenkamp's death, the prosecution argued the athlete deserved a harsh sentence because of the severity of the crime.
Following an extended trial marred by nonstop media scrutiny and mental breakdowns, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide — the South African equivalent of manslaughter — on September 12. Although Masipa didn't believe the Olympian killed Steenkamp with premeditation, the judge found that Pistorius acted "negligently" when he fired four shots through his bathroom door. Pistorius and his defense team said he thought he was shooting at an intruder, not his girlfriend.
Steenkamp's parents weren't happy with the verdict, believing there was "no justice" for their slain daughter. "He shot through the door, and I can't believe that they believe it was an accident," June Steenkamp told NBC News in an interview in September.
But on Tuesday, the Steenkamp family was satisfied. A lawyer for the family told reporters that the Steenkamp's "wanted justice, justice has been done."
Pistorius' family has also embraced the sentencing, saying in a statement on Tuesday that they have no plans to appeal. “We accept the judgment," said Arnold Pistorius, the Olympian's father.
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