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Oscar Pistorius Urteil 21.10.2014
Image: Reuters/S. Sibeko

Pistorius starts jail term in Pretoria

October 22, 2014

Paralympic sprinting star Oscar Pistorius has begun his five-year jail sentence for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. While the victim's family has said justice had been done, some say the sentence was too lenient.


Pistorius began his first 24 hours in jail on Tuesday after Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered that he serve a maximum five-year sentence for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

The Paralympic athlete, who had been known as the "Blade Runner" because of the prosthetic limbs he used to compete, was taken away from the courtroom in a police van with barred windows.

Some legal analysts have speculated that Pistorius may only spend 10 months behind bars.

The 27-year-old began his sentence behind the walls of Pretoria's notorious Kgosi Mampuru II prison. The facility, which houses some 7,000 inmates, has in the recent past had problems with violence and overcrowding. It was once notorious for the brutality shown to political prisoners during the apartheid era.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Tuesday that Pistorius would not be allowed to run at IPC events even if his prison sentence was cut short and he served the rest of the term under house arrest.

"Justice was served," said Dup De Bruyn, the lawyer for the Steenkamp family, adding that the judge had given "the right sentence." However, many have argued that the punishment was too lenient.

Doubts over future fairness

There had been inadequate proof that Pistorius had believed there was a genuine threat, according to Lovell Fernandez, a legal expert based in Cape Town. "There must be a threat before one can rely on self-defence," Fernandez told the DPA news agency. "But how does one know there is a threat if the toilet door is closed?"

"Masipa has lowered the threshold for acting in self-defense, which can be very dangerous" he added.

After the sentence, the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL) remarked via Twitter that it was unhappy with the culpable homicide verdict that was delivered in September.

Defense lawyers of Pistorius argued a jail term would "break" him, and said imprisonment would be harmful to his current emotional state. They called for three years of house arrest with community service.

Judge Masipa said a non-custodial case was not appropriate. Responding to the defense's claims that due to Pistorius's disability - he had his lower legs amputated as a child - he would be particularly vulnerable in prison, Masipa said, "yes, the accused is vulnerable, but he also has excellent coping skills."

"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," she added.

Pistorius was also convicted of a separate firearms charge and was given a three-year suspended sentence.

The double-amputee, who also competed in races at the 2012 Olympics, went on trial on March 3, 2014.

On February 14, 2013, he fired four hollow-point bullets through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home, killing his girlfriend of three months.

Pistorius claimed in testimony that he believed he had been shooting at an intruder.

rc/lw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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