Oscar Pistorius Faces Return to Prison After Murder Conviction

SAFRICA-TRIAL-SPORT-PISTORIUS
Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images
  • Court overturns manslaughter conviction for killing girlfriend
  • Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp four times in his bathroom

Oscar Pistorius could face a 15-year jail term after the South African Supreme Court of Appeal found the Paralympic gold medalist known as the Blade Runner guilty of murder in the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day two years ago.

Judge Lorimer Leach made the announcement Thursday, while Reeva’s mother, June, sat in the court in Bloemfontein. He criticized High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa for handing down a five-year jail sentence for the culpable homicide of Steenkamp in October last year. Pistorius, 29, has been under house arrest since October when he was released from jail.

“As a result of the errors of law,” Leach said, “and a proper appraisal of the facts, he ought to have been convicted not of culpable homicide on that count but of murder. In the interests of justice the conviction and the sentence imposed in respect thereof must be set aside and the conviction substituted with a conviction of the correct offense.”

While murder generally carries a minimum of 15 years in jail, Masipa will have leeway to adjust the sentence at the High Court, said Marius du Toit, a criminal defense lawyer at Du Toit Attorneys in Pretoria, the capital. No date has been set for the sentencing. Pistorius’s defense lawyer, Barry Roux, can only appeal the verdict if he can find the ruling raises constitutional issues, Du Toit said.

“I don’t think this is the end of the road,” Du Toit said by phone. “Barry Roux will certainly consider whether here’s a constitutional issue contained in the verdict.”

Leach described the case involving the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic blades as “a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.”

“A young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete; in doing so he becomes an international celebrity; he meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model; romance blossoms; and then, ironically on Valentine’s Day, all is destroyed when he takes her life,” he said.

The justice department welcomed the court’s decision to overturn the manslaughter verdict, spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said.

Hollow-Point Bullets

Pistorius shot Steenkamp with four hollow-point bullets in his bathroom. He said he thought she was an intruder.

“I have no doubt that in firing the fatal shots the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life,” Leach said.

Pistorius’s legal team will study the ruling before considering its options, his family said in an e-mailed statement.