South African appeals court more than doubles Pistorius sentence

November 25, 2017 - 11:22 AM
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Former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius appears for sentencing for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp at the Pretoria High Court, South Africa on June 14, 2016. (Reuters file)
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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s Supreme Court more than doubled Oscar Pistorius’ murder sentence on Friday, accepting prosecutors’ argument that the original jail term of six years for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was “shockingly lenient.”

The gold medal-winning athlete, a double amputee known as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fiber prosthetics, was not in court to hear the new sentence of 13 years and five months handed down.

Steenkamp’s family were also absent but welcomed the revised term — the minimum 15 years prescribed for murder, minus the time Pistorius has already served — and said it showed justice could prevail in South Africa.

“This is an emotional thing for them. They just feel that their trust in the justice system has been confirmed this morning,” Tania Koen, a family spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Rights groups in a country beset by high levels of violent crime against women say Pistorius, 31, received preferential treatment compared to non-whites and those without his wealth or celebrity status.

Barry Steenkamp, the father of the slain model, told SABC television the family could now get on with their lives.

“I always, from the beginning, said justice had not been served, now it has,” he said.

In the same interview, her mother June Steenkamp said: We felt that we didn’t have justice for Reeva by that too-lenient sentence but now we have justice for her.”

Pistorius’ elder brother Carl wrote on Twitter: “Shattered. Heartbroken. Gutted.”

The athlete’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.

The athlete was jailed in July last year after being found guilty on appeal of murdering model and law graduate Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 by firing four shots through a locked bathroom door. The case attracted worldwide interest.

He had originally been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in jail. That conviction was increased to murder by the Supreme Court in December 2015 and his sentence extended to six years by trial judge Thokozile Masipa in July last year.

Masipa said in court that while the Steenkamps had suffered a great loss, “fallen hero” Pistorius’ life and career were also in ruins, and that a long prison term “would not serve justice.”

Pistorius’ appearance during the trial without his prostheses had drawn gasps from the courtroom.

In a scathing criticism, the appeals court said Masipa’s ruling had “erred in deviating from the prescribed minimum sentence” of 15 years’ imprisonment for murder.

“The sentence of six years’ imprisonment is shockingly lenient, to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offence,” said Judge Willie Seriti, who read out the unanimous court decision.

“I am of the view that there are no substantial and compelling circumstances which can justify the departure from the prescribed minimum sentence.”