Double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted last month of culpable homicide in the shooting death of Reeve Steenkamp, his model girlfriend, could find out this week if he will go to jail, as the sentencing phase begins on Monday. Although he was charged with premeditated murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa stated that prosecutors failed to prove intent and instead found the runner guilty of culpable homicide, which is negligent killing. Still, the judge could sentence him up to 15 years in prison.
The sentencing will top off a sensational six-month trial that was televised and viewed by millions around the world. The trial took place in South Africa, where Pistorius and Steenkamp are from and where they resided on the night Steenkamp was killed. On the night in question, prosecutors claimed that Pistorius shot his girlfriend through a bathroom door in an angry rage, while Pistorius countered that he believed the person behind the bathroom door was an intruder. Unlike most murder trials in the United States, there was no jury and a single judge determined the verdict after presiding over the trial, which included testimony from the defendant himself, who oftentimes sobbed and even vomited while recounting the events that led to Steenkamp’s death. While Judge Masipa was not convinced that the killing was premeditated, she did say Pistorius was evasive and untruthful and a “poor witness,” who failed the “reasonable man” test when he acted hastily and with excessive force, which amounted to negligent killing.
Predictions on what sentence will be handed down to Pistorius this week run the gamut since Judge Masipa has a wide range of discretion. The judge may choose from a suspended sentence and fine as well as community service to up to 15 years in prison. Some analysts, including human rights lawyer George Bizos, predict that the one-time Olympic runner will get some prison time but not a lengthy sentence. Criminal defense lawyer Marius du Toit predicts he will get between five to seven years. However, South African criminal lawyer Martin Hood predicts the once celebrated athlete will not serve time at all.
Some analysts have pointed out that there are mitigating factors that could affect the sentence. The fact that Pistorius is disabled and could experience difficulties in prison particularly if he is forced to defend himself among the general population is one factor that could save the runner from prison time. Also, since the prisons are generally overcrowded and not hygienic and, considering Pistorius is also a first-time offender, he may only be sentenced to house arrest. However, house arrest could include restrictions such as limited alcohol use as well as other requirements and restrictions that could be imposed by the judge.
Pistorius, who is currently out on bail, will return to the courtroom first thing on Monday of this week with his lawyers to begin sentencing hearings. Based on this week’s legal arguments and testimony, including possible testimony from psychological experts, Judge Masipa who determined the verdict will also determine the sentence. Pistorius can appeal the culpable homicide conviction but, under South African law, not until after the sentencing portion is completed.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay