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S. African state appeal to push for Pistorius murder conviction

Oscar Pistorius has hunkered down under house arrest, but South African state prosecutors will on Tuesday appeal in court for a murder conviction that would send him back to jail for years.

The disgraced Paralympic sprinter was found guilty last year of culpable homicide — a charge equivalent to manslaughter — after shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

At the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, state prosecutors will try to convince judges that Pistorius should be found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in the prison.

At his trial, the 28-year-old was sentenced to five years, and he was released two weeks ago after just a year behind bars to spend the remainder of his term at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria.

Pistorius said he thought there was an intruder in his house when he blasted four bullets through the toilet door of his bedroom, killing Steenkamp.

According to court documents, prosecutor Gerrie Nel will argue that Pistorius intentionally meant to shoot whoever was behind the door early on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

The state lawyers have described the sentence as “shockingly light, inappropriate” and said “not enough emphasis was placed on the horrendous manner” in which Steenkamp died.

A panel of five judges will hear the arguments from the state and defence, with the proceedings scheduled to last one day.

The judges are expected to announce a future date to deliver their ruling.

– Twists and turns –

Pistorius, who has not been seen in public since his release on October 19, will not attend the hearing, family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess told AFP.

Steenkamp’s mother June may go, though her father Barry is not expected, said their lawyer Tania Koen.

“They really respect Gerrie Nel and they have a lot of admiration for him,” Koen added.

Legal experts said it was difficult to predict the outcome of the appeal given the unexpected — and sometimes unprecedented — legal twists and turns that have characterised the case.

“The possibilities are to dismiss the appeal, uphold the appeal, or refer it back to the trial court — which I think is very unlikely — for resentencing or retrial,” criminal lawyer Martin Hood told AFP.

If the judges uphold the state’s appeal and find Pistorius guilty of murder, he could have just 48 hours to prepare for a return to prison, said Hood.

Pistorius could also make his own appeal to South Africa’s Constitutional Court — the country’s highest court.

“He would have the option of an appeal to the constitutional court, subject to the financial means to do so,” Hood said.

Defence lawyer Barry Roux previously said Pistorius could not afford another murder trial, having already paid huge legal bills.

Pistorius shot his girlfriend at the peak of his fame, following his historic performance in 2012 when he became the first double-amputee to race at Olympic level.

In the shooting’s aftermath, he lost his glittering sports career, lucrative contracts and status as a global role model for the disabled.

His release on house arrest after serving one-sixth of his sentence was in line with normal treatment of South African convicts, but was criticised by women’s rights groups and many others in the country.

When Pistorius was due for release in August, the country’s justice minister intervened to insist on a delay, in a move the athlete’s legal team claimed smacked of political interference.