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Pistorius appeal hearing underway

Published on 09/12/2014

South African prosecutors on Tuesday argued Oscar Pistorius's five-year manslaughter conviction was "shockingly inappropriate," at a start of a hearing that could open the door to an appeal of the Paralympian's sentence.

The athlete was not in court to hear prosecutor Gerrie Nel argue that Judge Thokozile Masipa had misinterpreted the law when she ruled Pistorius did not intentionally shoot Steenkamp.

“The precedent set by this court is shockingly low,” said Nel.

Legal experts and sources involved in the case say they expect Judge Masipa to allow the appeal to go ahead, opening the way for Pistorius to face a tougher murder charge.

Pistorius admits shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times with hollow point bullets through a locked toilet door on Valentine’s Day 2013. He told the court he thought she was an intruder.

Masipa found him guilty of culpable homicide, also known as manslaughter, and sentenced him to five years in jail, meaning that he could end up spending only 10 months of his jail term at Pretoria’s central prison.

Experts said they expect Masipa to give the state a “lashing” about their handling of the case, before sending the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, the country’s judicial capital.

Tuesday’s hearing is expected to take around two hours.

“I honestly don’t think that Masipa would refuse leave to appeal, there’s just too much controversy about the judgement,” said Martin Hood, a criminal lawyer based in Johannesburg.

“It doesn’t matter what the outcome of the appeal is, if the appeal is allowed then other judges will be able to comment on the decision, and that’s critical,” said Hood, who has been following the Pistorius case throughout the year.

If Masipa refuses to grant the appeal, the state can petition the decision, a common legal strategy in South Africa.

– ‘Effective legal system’ –

Hood said that with the decision of a Cape Town court on Monday to throw out the Shrien Dewani case — another high-profile murder trial involving a beautiful young woman killed in the dead of night — South Africa’s courts need to demonstrate they are rigorous and fair.

“From a perception point of view, both public and internationally, we need to tell everybody that we have a robust and effective legal system,” he said.

Pistorius, who celebrated his 28th birthday last month, has been serving his sentence in a Pretoria prison.

“He’s encountering many beautiful stories from prisoners. There are people there who have committed crimes but whose lives have changed,” said his older brother Carl, in an interview with You magazine, a South African tabloid.

Pistorius has been accused of receiving special treatment in South Africa’s notoriously corrupt prisons, where there is frequent reports of inmates using cellphones and even drinking alcohol behind bars.

Yet Carl dismissed claims his brother is living the good life, saying Pistorius relies on weekly 45-minute visits with his family to leave cash at the canteen so he can supplement his standard prison diet with tasty snacks, including baked beans and canned pilchards (small fish).

“He now lives moment by moment,” said Carl. “There’s no fairytale.”