PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – Oscar Pistorius removed his prostheses and hobbled on his stumps in front of a judge in a South African courtroom Wednesday, part of his defense team’s attempt to show that the double-amputee Olympic athlete, convicted of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, is a vulnerable man who deserves leniency when he is sentenced.
“Pity will play no role in the sentence,” chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered, asking Judge Thokozile Masipa to send the former track star to prison for 15 years, the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa.
Masipa will announce Pistorius’ sentence on July 6, she said at the end of three days of testimony and arguments in Pistorius’ sentencing hearing.
That sentencing is also expected to conclude the three-year legal saga of Pistorius, the once-acclaimed athlete and an inspiration to many before he shot his girlfriend in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. Pistorius is currently under house arrest after an appeals court overturned an initial manslaughter conviction against him and changed that to murder. He served one year in prison for manslaughter.
Masipa, who initially acquitted Pistorius of murder at his trial in 2014, must now re-sentence him.
Masipa on Wednesday lifted a ban on the publication of graphic photographs of the gunshot wounds Pistorius inflicted on Steenkamp —which included a severe head injury — when he shot her multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home. Masipa lifted the restrictions after a request from Steenkamp’s father that people be allowed to see them.
The most dramatic image of the sentencing hearing was Pistorius walking unsteadily on his stumps in the courtroom Wednesday.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux asked Pistorius to remove his prostheses and the Olympian, who had taken off his suit and put on a T-shirt and running shorts during a recess, then hobbled across the courtroom. Wearing sportswear emblazoned with the logos of his former sponsor Nike, Pistorius was unsteady at times, holding onto wooden desks and helped by a woman at one point. He then returned to a bench where he sat alone, head bowed, and wiped away tears.
The demonstration drew gasps from some onlookers in the courtroom.
“I don’t want to overplay disability,” Roux said ahead of the demonstration, “but the time has come that we must just look (at Pistorius) with different eyes.”
The defense’s argument is that Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and a history-making amputee athlete who ran at the 2012 Olympics, was a scared disabled man when he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius was on his stumps when he fired the fatal shots; he testified at his murder trial that he felt vulnerable and thought an intruder was in the house.
Roux said: “It was not the man winning gold medals that must be judged” but rather “a man standing on his stumps at 3 o’clock in the morning in the dark that must be judged.”
Prosecutors charged that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp after a fight.
Chief prosecutor Nel said Pistorius should get the minimum sentence of 15 years, arguing that he had not shown genuine remorse a well as noting the seriousness of the crime and the devastating impact on Steenkamp’s family. Nel asked Masipa not to forget that Pistorius shot four times into a toilet cubicle from close range when he killed Steenkamp.
“He intended to shoot someone in the bathroom. He did,” Nel said.
A judge can reduce the minimum sentence of 15 years for murder in some circumstances. While prosecutors are seeking at least 15 years in jail, Pistorius’ defense argued that he should be spared any more prison time and be allowed to do community work with children.
Nel also addressed the defense argument that Pistorius is a “broken man” because of the grief from killing Steenkamp and the trauma that followed as the world focused on his case. Nel referred to the emotional testimony a day earlier of Barry Steenkamp, father of the victim.
“If you ever want to talk about a broken man, we saw a broken man there,” Nel said of Barry Steenkamp.
Roux had begun his arguments by saying there were misconceptions over Pistorius’ murder conviction, and “substantial and compelling circumstances” existed that would allow the judge to deviate from the 15 years.
Roux was trying to show Pistorius was guilty of a “less serious murder,” prosecutor Nel said. “That can never be the case … We feel a long-term imprisonment and the minimum sentence should be imposed.”