Ricochet News

Oscar Pistorius Verdict: Will he or will he not go to prison?

By Tai Chishakwe - Oct 20, 2014
Oscar Pistorius Verdict: Will he or will he not go to prison?

Will Oscar Pistorius be jailed for 10 years or return to serve house arrest on Tuesday when he will be sentenced for killing model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp? Observers say, in her decision, Judge Thokozile Masipa has to balance the threat the Paralympic gold medallist poses to society against his likelihood of rehabilitation and eventual re-introduction to public life.

After being acquitted of murder in September, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide, a conviction, whose penalty ranges from a fine to 15 years behind bars, is at the sole discretion of the judge.

Last week, his lawyers argued that he should be sentenced to three years correctional supervision, which is also known as house arrest. He would then do 16 hours of community service a month, suggested the defence.

In a remarkably eloquent closing argument, his defence lawyer Barry Roux said Pistorius is an ideal candidate for a non-custodial sentence given his remorse, his status as a first-time offender and the fact he would be "vulnerable" in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails as a result of his disability.

Roux said Pistorius is a "broken man" who has "genuine remorse" after shooting Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door early on Valentine's Day morning last year.

As his lawyer chronicled how Pistorius has lost his friends and fortune, the sprinter uncontrollably wept in the dock, wiping tears off his face with a handkerchief.

However, State prosecutor Gerrie Nel attacked the defence claim that Pistorius is repentant, claiming he offered "blood money" to Steenkamp's parents to reduce his likelihood of going to jail.

Nel warned that Judge Masipa's sentencing will be a litmus test of the strength of the country's justice system.

Highlighting Pistorius's gross recklessness, Nel said the only appropriate sentence for the athlete was incarceration.

"The minimum term that society would be happy with would be a 10 year minimum imprisonment sentence," he said.

"This is a serious matter. The negligence borders on intent."

Nel said a house arrest sentence would be "shockingly inappropriate" and would cause South Africans to lose faith in their legal system and turn to vigilantism.

Difficult decision for judge

"If the court sentence is too light, and society loses trust in the court, they will take the law into their own hands," Nel warned.

After the sentence is handed down, both the state and defence can appeal, a legal process that could drag out for years.