Oscar Pistorius went straight to jail Wednesday after a South African judge sentenced him to six years in prison for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Prosecutors had requested that Pistorius, the former Olympic sprinter known as “Blade Runner,” serve a minimum of 15 years in prison for the killing, but Judge Thokozile Masipa said “mitigating” factors, including what she interpreted as real remorse and the athlete’s chance for rehabilitation, demanded a more lenient sentence. “He’s a fallen hero, he has lost his career and he is ruined financially,” the judge said. “The worst is that having taken the life of a fellow human being in the manner that he did, he cannot be at peace.”
This is the second sentencing hearing for Pistorius. In 2014, the athlete was convicted of manslaughter — or what’s known in South Africa as “culpable homicide.” The judge — also Masipa, who presided over Wednesday’s sentencing — sided with Pistorius, who had argued during the trial that he believed Steenkamp was an intruder and he had acted in self-defense when he fired four shots through a locked bathroom door in 2013. Prosecutors appealed that verdict, saying Judge Masipa had failed to consider a legal principle called dolus eventualis. Based on that rule, prosecutors said, Pistorius knew his actions would likely result in a death, even if he’s correct in saying he did not know who was on the other side of the bathroom door. An appeals court agreed with the prosecution and, in December, overturned the manslaughter verdict and found Pistorius guilty of murder.
Pistorius, who had been under house arrest since October after spending less than a year behind bars, will have to serve at least half of this six-year sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Pistorius’s lawyers, however, said they won’t appeal, though prosecutors have 14 days to challenge the ruling. It’s unclear if they will do so. The Steenkamp family — who had called Pistorius’s first manslaughter conviction unjust — has said, through a spokesperson, that they accept the most recent judgment: “The family has said it before they wanted the law to run its course.”
Many legal experts think this dramatic two-year case may have finally come to a close. Lawyer Marius du Toit told ABC News Pistorius’s latest sentence was “lenient but not wrong.” Many in the public — whose opinion has largely turned against the Olympic hero — slammed the verdict, including on social media. It was a fact Judge Masipa seemed to anticipate when she added during sentencing, “public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court.”