Pistorius sentenced to five years in jail for killing girlfriend

21st October 2014, Comments 0 comments

South African Paralympian star sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday for killing his girlfriend, in the climax of his sensational trial.

The 27-year-old was led straight down to the cells after the sentence was read out by Judge Thokozile Masipa in a final court hearing watched around the world.

"Count one, culpable homicide: the sentence imposed is five years," Masipa told Pistorius.

The double amputee known as the "Blade Runner" for his speed on his prosthetic legs, killed 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

He was also sentenced to three years, suspended for five years, for accidentally firing a pistol under a table at a restaurant in Johannesburg in January 2013.

Pistorius stood stock-still in the dock as he was sentenced in the Pretoria courtroom, veins bulging in his forehead and his jaw muscles clenched.

Lawyers said however that Pistorius will probably not serve the full term for the offence of culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, and perhaps as little as 10 months.

Pistorius had testified that he shot Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, four times through a locked bathroom door at his upmarket Pretoria home after he mistakenly believed she was an intruder.

Prosecutors had argued that he murdered her in a fit of rage after an argument.

- Steenkamps welcome sentence -

As the court adjourned, Pistorius turned to look at the public gallery, then briefly took the hands of his family members before being led by police down stairs from the dock to the cells.

He was expected to be transferred to the hospital wing of a nearby prison to begin his sentence.

Steenkamp's family welcomed the sentence, the climax of a trial that began in March in the South African capital but was repeatedly adjourned.

Steenkamp's ailing father Barry said he was "very glad" the trial was over and a lawyer for the family said the sentence was "welcome".

The Steenkamps' lawyer Dup de Bruyn told AFP that the sentence will likely be served as two years in prison and three years under house arrest.

A member of Pistorius's legal team, Roxanne Adams said he would likely serve a "sixth" of the five-year term -- 10 months -- before being transferred to house arrest.

- No decision on appeals -

Neither side indicated immediately whether they would appeal against either the September verdict or Tuesday's sentence.

State prosecution spokesman Nathi Mncube said they had been disappointed with the conviction for culpable homicide rather than murder.

But he added: "We have not made up our minds whether we are going to appeal or not."

Adams said the defence had "no comment" on whether or not it will appeal.

Masipa said she wanted to find a balance between retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation, dismissing defence claims that the disabled athlete would face particular suffering in prison.

"It would be a sad day for this country if an impression were to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous," said Masipa.

She also weighed the ability of Pistorius to cope with incarceration given his physical disability.

"Yes the accused is vulnerable, but he also has excellent coping skills," she said.

The gold medal-winning athlete made history by becoming the first double amputee Paralympian to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, inspiring millions with his story.

But during his trial the prosecution painted a darker picture of the one-time sports star, presenting a dangerously volatile young man with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars.

Discussing the gravity of Pistorius's crime, the judge said he had been guilty of "gross negligence".

"Using a lethal weapon, a loaded firearm, the accused fired not one, but four shots into the door," said Masipa.

"The toilet was a small cubicle and there was no room for escape for the person behind the door," she said.

The prosecution had called for 10 years in jail for the athlete, while the defence pleaded for house arrest and community service.

But Masipa said a community service order "would not be appropriate".

With the conviction and sentence, Pistorius has lost his glittering sports career, lucrative contracts and -- above all -- his hero status, tarnished forever.


© 2014 AFP

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