- Pistorius given six year sentence after manslaughter conviction upgraded to murder
- Pistorius must serve between half and two thirds of his sentence before he applies for parole
- Sentence was delivered by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who heard the original trial.
- Comes three weeks after Pistorius hobbled across courtroom to demonstrate his physical vulnerability
- He will serve his sentence in the hospital section of Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius has been sent back to prison for murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but is expected to be released on parole in as little as three years.
The athlete has already served 12 months in jail for the fatal shooting but was sent back to prison after South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal upgraded his conviction from manslaughter to murder.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, the original trial judge who re-sentenced the athlete on Wednesday, said the change in conviction had to bring with it a markedly different sentence.
But she added that she believed there were “substantial and compelling” reasons why the athlete should not be handed the 15-year stipulated sentence for murder, including his obvious remorse and the fact he believed Steenkamp was an intruder.
“Murder is always a very serious crime. The fact that the accused thought it was an intruder does not make it less serious,” she said.
She said however the punishment had to be “proportionate” and she had to look at the “peculiar” circumstances in the sensational and long-running case, which was televised live and followed by millions of people around the world.
“I am of the view that a long term of imprisonment would not serve justice in this case,” she said.
Steenkamp’s parents did not react to the sentence, which is significantly lower than the full 15 years the state had asked for.
During the sentencing proceedings, Reeva’s father Barry gave emotional testimony about their agony at losing their daughter and said he believed Pistorius “must pay” for murdering her.
The judge said however that the “misperception” of Barry Steenkamp – and many people who have followed the case – that Pistorius killed his girlfriend deliberately by firing four shots through a locked lavatory door at his home had to be corrected.
There was, she said, “not a shred” of evidence to support the state’s original argument he killed her following a row. “Courts deal with facts, not assumptions or perceptions,” she said.
She also addressed the likely controversy about her sentence, given an overwhelmingly hostile attitude towards South Africa’s most famous defendant.
“Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in this case,” she said.
She handed down a six-year sentence but it is understood the athlete could be eligible for release on parole, with an electronic tag, after between half and two thirds of that time, at the discretion of the prison authorities.
The state has 14 days to appeal the sentence and is expected to bar any intervention from Steenkamp’s family. A prosecution source previously told The Telegraph that for them, the “worst case scenario” would be 10 years.
“You would expect the system to work and we will do the best we can. We can only hope for the best but she has disappointed us before,” the source said.
“If we get a pittance of a sentence, make no mistake we will appeal. We can apply for leave to appeal and it will go to the full bench of high court.
“If it’s going to be less than eight years, there is no way we are not going to appeal. It sets such a bad precedent if a murderer doesn’t get life. This was a brutal murder.”
The 29-year-old athlete was clutched by his sister Aimee and brother Carl before he was led down to the cells. He also exchanged a brief word with former girlfriend Jenna Edkins, who attended court for the first time for his sentencing.
“The record has been set straight and justice done. The truth will always prevail,” Carl Pistorius tweeted. “I have the utmost respect for Judge Masipa; she is remarkable woman.”
From Pretoria’s high court, he was taken to Kgosi Mampuru II Prison on the outskirts of Pretoria where he served his original 12-month sentence.
He has previously described the prison as a “terrible” place where he saw an inmate who hanged himself after being raped, and where he himself was beaten up by another inmate despite being held in a secure hospital wing for vulnerable offenders.
A psychologist appointed by the defence told the court in his sentencing hearing last month that his mental condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and depression, had worsened since his original trial.
Judge Masipa told the athlete she believed he could be fully rehabilitated.
“By its nature punishment is unpleasant, it is inconvenient, it is painful, it is certainly not what you would chose to do,” she said. “Recovery is possible but it depends on the accused’s attitude to the punishment imposed on him.”