Representing slain South African model Reeva Steenkamp, her parents criticized Oscar Pistorius' early release after an announcement on Monday said the one-time Olympic runner would be eligible for probation in August. By Aug. 21, Pistorius, who was found guilty of manslaughter last October for killing Steenkamp, will have served 10 months of his five-year sentence, thus qualifying him for parole under South African law. The Steenkamps have spoken out before, and the paraplegic runner has barely been out of the papers long enough for the Steenkamps to grieve in private.
Barry and June Steenkamp were outspoken throughout the highly publicized 49-day trial last October. Though Pistorius has maintained his innocence, alleging that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot her through the bathroom door of their house, the Steenkamps have publicly doubted his version of events. In a statement submitted to the court in an effort to block Pistorius' parole, the Steenkamps said:
We have forgiven Mr. Pistorius even though he took the life of our precious daughter, Reeva. Our lives will never be the same as we live with the sadness of her death every day. Reeva had so much to offer this world and we were all robbed of her life when she was killed. As her family, we do not seek to avenge her death and we do not want Mr. Pistorius to suffer; that will not bring her back to us. However, a person found guilty of a crime must be held accountable for their actions.
The Steenkamps also used their court statement as an opportunity to speak about the broader subject of criminal sentencing in South Africa, and their belief that manslaughter does not receive a severe enough punishment.
Statistics show that our society is under continuous attack from criminals and murderers. Incarceration of 10 months for taking a life is simply not enough. We fear that this will not send out the proper message and serve as the deterrent it should.
According to The Guardian, the Steenkamps were not prepared to speak publicly following Pistorius' parole announcement, but their lawyer, Tania Koen, released this statement for them. "They don’t think 10 months is enough for taking a life," said Koen. "Whether it was Reeva behind the door or anybody else behind that door, it doesn’t send out a proper message and it doesn’t serve as a deterrent."
The Steenkamps did not shy from publicity during Pistorius' trial, with June Steenkamp attending almost every day of the trial and often alone, as her husband had suffered a stroke and stayed at home to prevent worsening his condition. “My presence unnerves [Pistorius], I’m sure of it,” she told The Daily Mirror. “He must see me there in the court, he must feel my eyes boring into him, I think it makes a lot of difference.” In June, after the verdict for Pistorius came in, the Steenkamps shared with NBC News their surprise that the court believed Pistorius' defense. "This verdict is not justice for Reeva," said June Steenkamp. "I just want the truth. ... He shot through the door and I can't believe that they believe it was an accident."
Pistorius' parole will require a probation period, as well as house arrest, so the Olympian will not be completely exempt from his punishment yet. The release is also contingent on his continued good behavior. This appears to be of small comfort to the Steenkamps, however. June told NBC News before the final sentencing:
I really don't care what happens to Oscar. It's not going to change anything because my daughter is never coming back. He's still living and breathing and she's gone, you know, forever.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, early parole is not at all uncommon within the United States. Prisoners who serve a predetermined amount of their sentence (often two-thirds) and have good behavior are eligible for parole in order to alleviate overcrowding and start prisoner rehabilitation, and many prisoners, including those sentenced for manslaughter, receive early release. South Africa is known to have a lenient parole policy, according to the Library of Congress, and has been criticized for the early release of some its serious offenders. Whether the system is incorrect or not, the only unusual circumstance surrounding Pistorius' release is his celebrity.
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