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Oscar Pistorius jailed for five years for culpable homicide of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp


South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been jailed for five years for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Sentencing the 27-year-old at Pretoria High Court today, Judge Thokozile Masipa said that a non-custodial sentence would send out the wrong message to the community, but a long sentence would also be inappropriate. She also rejected the defence's argument that the Olympian would be at risk in jail because of his disability.  

In a damning summary for the defence, she said Pistorius' lawyers had over-emphasised his vulnerability. She said that pregnant women also endured prison time in South Africa and that there was "not one law for the poor and one for the rich and famous". 

There was no reaction from Pistorius, his family or the Steenkamp family as the sentence was passed. 

June Steenkamp told reporters that the jail sentence was "right" but did not bring full closure for her daughter's death "unless you can magic her back". Pistorius family indicated that they had expected jail time for the athlete. 

As Pistorius was led away to the court cells to await transport to prison, there was already confusion over the amount of time he will actually spend in prison. 

Pistorius' legal team has suggested that he may serve just 10 months in jail before moving to house arrest - a claim that South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) cast doubt over. 

Nathi Mncube, a spokesperson for the NPA, said Pistorius would have to serve at least a third of his prison time behind bars, equating to around 20 months. 

Oscar Pistorius as his sentence is passed

Oscar Pistorius as his sentence is passed

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius arrives at court today

Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, died in a toilet cubicle in Pistorius' house after the sprint runner fired four shots through the door just after 3am on Valentine's Day last year. 

He claimed he mistook her for an intruder, a version of events that Judge Masipa accepted when she acquitted the athlete of murder last month.

Judge Masipa said Pistorius acted "negligently" when he fired shots through a toilet door but in the "belief that there was an intruder".

Steenkamp's family reacted angrily to the September acquittal, saying "justice was not served".

Her daughter died a "horrible, painful, terrible" death, June Steenkamp told NBC News at the time. "He shot through the door and I can't believe that they believe it was an accident."

"I just want the truth," she said. "I really don't care what happens to Oscar. It's not going to change anything because my daughter is never coming back. He's still living and breathing and she's gone, you know, forever."

Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

The prosecution had previously called for a minimum 10-year jail sentence for Pistorius, while his defence argued the case for community service and house arrest.

They had claimed Pistorius would be a target in jail because of his disability and called an expert witness who condemned prison conditions. But, in a serious blow to their case, Judge Masipa today said she was "not impressed at all" by the expert's "slapdash" evidence. 

She said she got the impression that the prison system in South Africa was "making progress and moving with the times." She said that Pistorius' disability and psychological vulnerability would not be an "insurmountable challenge" for the system and that prison guards had dealt with similar inmates in the past. 

But she added that she wanted to strike a balance between retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation, in recognising that Pistorius had not handled his firearm with a "high degree of responsibility" 

 "Sentencing is about achieving the right balance. Sentencing is not a perfect exercise," she said. 

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an event in 2012

The dramatic trial of Pistorius has captivated the world over the past year, with gruesome evidence, the dignified stance of the Pistorius and Steenkamp families and the emotional state of the athlete himself hitting the headlines during the live televised proceedings.

Pistorius has repeatedly expressed regret over the shooting. "No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved and continues to love Reeva (Steenkamp)," he said in a statement on his website earlier this year. "The pain and sadness, especially for Reeva's parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow."

June and Barry Steenkamp have spoken of their devastation at the loss of their daughter in such violent circumstances, although June says she has forgiven Pistorius.

"I don’t hate Oscar," she told Hello! magazine in July.  "I've forgiven him. I have to - that's my religion. But I am determined to face him and re-claim my daughter. It's important for him to know that I'm there, that Reeva's mother who gave birth to her and loved her, is there for her."

"I feel her presence and talk to her all the time. She'll only rest in peace when this is over. I trust that God will prevail and justice will be done. All we want is the truth."

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius awaiting sentencing

Photos: Rex Features



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