Pretoria: A judge will pass sentence on athlete Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday for killing his girlfriend after one of the most sensational murder trials in South Africa’s history and the decision could fuel controversy over the state of the country’s justice system.
The Olympic and Paralympic runner was convicted of culpable homicide last month for shooting dead 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria in February 2013.
Judge Thokozile Masipa cleared Pistorius of the more serious charge of murder, saying prosecutors had failed to prove his intent to kill when he fired four 9mm rounds through the door of a toilet cubicle in what he said was the mistaken belief an intruder was lurking behind it.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel said at the sentencing hearing last week that only 10 years imprisonment would satisfy the South African public. They would lose their faith in the justice system if Pistorius avoids jail, Nel said.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux said, however, that the double-amputee sprinter should be given community service because his sorrow and regret at being killing the woman he loved was the worst punishment of all.
He also said Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated as a baby, would face particular difficulties in prison.
The 27-year-old sprinter could also be given a suspended sentence or house arrest. If Pistorius avoids a custodial sentence, the decision could inflame public anger and fuel a perception among Black South Africans that, 20 years after the end of apartheid, wealthy Whites can still secure preferential justice.
Indicating the public mood, a cartoon by a popular satirist in a newspaper mocked a potential sentence of house arrest. It depicted Pistorius popping champagne with friends in a sports car, while an ankle tag bleeped on a pair of prosthetics left inside his house.
Opinion among legal experts is divided on the outcome.
“I personally believe, given the severity of the crime and the high degree of negligence, there will be quite a long period of direct imprisonment,” said Mannie Witz, a Johannesburg-based advocate.