Oscar Pistorius is going back to jail. The only question now is for how long? It could be 15 years.
The double-amputee Olympic runner’s sentencing hearing opens Monday after he was convicted of murder by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal for shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
It’ll be the second time Pistorius has been sentenced for the killing following an appeal by prosecutors. The three-year legal saga that began with the fatal gunshots in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 now appears to be near its end.
WHY IS PISTORIUS BEING SENTENCED AGAIN?
Pistorius was initially convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, at his 2014 trial for shooting Steenkamp through a closed toilet door in his home. He testified he mistook the model and reality TV celebrity for a nighttime intruder hiding in a bathroom, and shot with his 9mm pistol in self-defense fearing an attack. The trial judge accepted part of Pistorius’ story, and he was given a five-year jail sentence based on the judge’s ruling that he acted recklessly, but didn’t mean to kill. After serving a year in jail, Pistorius was released on parole in line with South African procedure and has been living under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion since October last year.
But following Pistorius’ manslaughter verdict, prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, saying that the former star athlete, a multiple Paralympic champion, should have been found guilty of murder. They argued that Pistorius intended to kill someone — even if he didn’t know it was Steenkamp in the toilet cubicle — when he shot four times through the door with no justification.
In December, a panel of Supreme Court judges agreed with prosecutors, overturned Pistorius’ manslaughter conviction, and raised it to a more serious murder conviction. Pistorius must now be sentenced for murder.
Supreme Court Justice Lorimer Leach said: “The accused ought to have been found guilty of murder on the basis that he had fired the fatal shots with criminal intent.”
Possibly 15 years in prison. That’s the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa, which no longer has the death penalty.
Legal experts say a judge can reduce that sentence in some circumstances, and that Pistorius’ disability and the fact that he is a first-time offender could be taken into account. He has also already served a year in prison.
Pistorius will return to the same courthouse in Pretoria where his dramatic seven-month murder trial played out in 2014 to be sentenced again. The hearing has been scheduled to last a week and Pistorius’ punishment will again be decided by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who acquitted him of murder at his trial but had her decision overturned by the Supreme Court.
Pistorius appears set to be starting a long prison sentence when the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics — where he intended to end his acclaimed track career — take place in Rio de Janeiro.
In a statement ahead of the sentencing hearing, Pistorius’ family said they do not know “what the future holds for Oscarafter this week.”
DOES HE HAVE ANY CHANCE OF APPEALING?
No. Pistorius has exhausted all his options. After his conviction was changed to murder by the Supreme Court last year, Pistorius appealed to South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, to review his case. The Constitutional Court dismissed that appeal in March and Pistorius now has no chance of escaping the murder conviction.
Pistorius last appeared in public in April at a brief court hearing that scheduled dates for his sentencing.
Other than that, the 29-year-old has spent almost all his time since being released from prison in October at his uncle’s luxurious house in an upscale suburb of the capital, Pretoria. Pistorius has remained under house arrest there and can only leave the home briefly and at set times. He needs permission from authorities to travel farther than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the house.
Yet Pistorius is never far from the news. In March, police said they launched a sting operation with the help of Pistorius’ family to catch a man attempting to scam Pistorius out of money by offering to quash his murder conviction.