South African Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
There’s only one person who will ever know precisely what transpired in Oscar Pistorius’ home in an upscale Pretoria neighborhood in the early hours of Valentine’s Day three years ago.
As he arrived at a South African court to hear the verdict Wednesday, one thing seems certain: It’s the last day Pistorius will be a free man for a long time.
The world’s most famous Paralympic athlete is due to be sentenced for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Barring an appeal, it will be the final chapter of a saga that began on that fateful February morning in 2013 — when Pistorius fired four bullets through his bathroom door, killing Steenkamp.
The amputee track star said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and feared for his life when he shot through the door. The prosecution said Pistorius had a violent streak, and that he murdered his lover after a late-night argument.
Guilty of manslaughter
After a nearly 50-day trial stretched over seven months, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide (much like manslaughter) in September 2014. Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled the sprinter had acted negligently when he shot Steenkamp, but that he didn’t do it intentionally, and sentenced him to five years in prison.
But the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the verdict last December. The appeals judge said Pistorius should have known that firing his gun would have killed whoever was behind the door, regardless of who he thought it was — and found Pistorius guilty of murder.
The minimum prison sentence in South Africa for murder is 15 years, and the prosecution has called for no less. But the defense has tried to secure a shorter sentence for Pistorius by arguing that his disability and emotional state were mitigating factors.
In dramatic scenes during his sentencing hearing in June, Pistorius hobbled across the court without his prosthetic legs, weeping as defense attorney Barry Roux argued that the former Olympian and Paralympic gold medalist was a broken man who deserved leniency.
“He suffers from an anxiety disorder. We know that uncontested evidence that when he was on his stumps, his balance was seriously compromised, and without anything he won’t be able to defend himself,” Roux said.
Pistorius was not wearing his prostheses at the time of the shooting. Roux painted a picture of a fearful man on his stumps, trying to protect a loved one. He said Pistorius never intended to kill Steenkamp, and that he had tried to save her life.
“He was anxious, he was frightened. … He was suffering from anxiety disorder, and that’s not gone,” Roux said. “This must all be seen in context of his disability.”
“The accused can never resume his career,” Roux concluded. “The accused has punished himself and will punish himself for the rest of his life far more than any court of law can punish him.”
But chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Pistorius could not truly be remorseful when he had failed to give a satisfactory account of why he had fired the fatal shots.
Nel said it was Steenkamp’s father who was the “broken man,” not Pistorius.
Earlier in the sentencing hearing, Barry Steenkamp delivered a gut-wrenching plea for Pistorius to be punished for murdering his daughter.
Weeping and trembling on the stand, he told the court that he still speaks to his daughter every day and thinks of her “every morning, afternoon and night. I think about her all the time.”
“I don’t wish that on any human being, finding out what happened. It devastated us,” Steenkamp said. “I ended up having a stroke and so many things since then have happened to me.”