The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years.
Calling him a “fallen hero,” Judge Thokozile Masipa has sentenced Oscar Pistorius to only six years in prison for gunning down his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
In declining to give Pistorius South Africa’s mandatory 15-year sentence for murder, Judge Masipa seemed to anticipate backlash, stating that, “Our courts are courts of law, and not of public opinion,” and that Pistorius is a strong candidate for rehabilitation.
South Africans are reacting angrily to the sentence and taking to social media to vent. Pearl Boshomane, a columnist based in Johannesburg, tweeted, “Women’s lives are worth absolutely nothing. Our rapists don’t go to jail. Our murderers barely get punished.”
Pistorius, 29, was born without fibula bones and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was a baby. Despite this, he went on to compete as a runner in the 2012 Olympic Games, wearing high-tech prosthetic limbs and racing against able-bodied athletes. He became an icon in South Africa and across the globe.
On Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp in the home they shared, firing four bullets through the closed bathroom door as Steenkamp cowered inside. Witnesses testified they heard the couple arguing and a woman screaming around the same time they heard the gunshots. But lawyers for Pistorius said those screams came from Pistorius, not Steenkamp.
Pistorius claims he thought Steenkamp was an intruder, and that he was so terrified he jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, gun in hand, without even putting on his prosthetic legs. It apparently did not occur to him that his girlfriend could have been in the bathroom.
Judge Masipa, who handed down today’s sentence, is the same judge who ruled that Pistorius was guilty only of “culpable homicide” – roughly equivalent to manslaughter in the US – in 2014, giving him only five years in prison. Pistorius served one year of jail time before being released to house arrest. He was brought to trial again when the prosecution appealed the first ruling. The Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the culpable homicide verdict in December 2015.
Throughout both trials, Pistorius has displayed numerous histrionics – sobbing, retching, and walking across the courtroom without his prostheses. Pistorius’s lawyer, Barry Roux, said his client had “punished himself and will punish himself for the rest of his life far more than any court of law can punish him.”
Image via Shutterstock
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