Oscar Pistorius will spend his first day behind bars on Tuesday after he was sentenced to five years’ jail for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Looking distressed, the Paralympian clasped the hands of family members as a police officer led him from the dock down 23 steps – paint peeling off the handrail – to holding cells below the high court in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa.
The national prosecuting authority said Pistorius, 27, would go to prison immediately and would be eligible to be considered for parole after serving a third of his sentence. His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, indicated the sprinter would not appeal.
The amputee athlete, known as the “Blade Runner”, stood staring straight ahead as judge Thokozile Masipa announced his sentence for culpable homicide. There was a muted reaction from the families on the front bench of the public gallery after a trial that has otherwise provided high emotion and drama.
Masipa rejected many of the defence team’s arguments and described the evidence of one of their witnesses, social worker Annette Vergeer, as “slapdash and disappointing”. She said she had no reason to believe that South Africa’s prisons would not be able to cater for the needs of a disabled person such as Pistorius.
“It would be a sad day for this country if an impression was created that there is one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous,” she noted.
Masipa said a judge must strive for a sentence “neither too light nor too severe”, ruling that “a non-custodial sentence will send a wrong message to the community”.
Referring to the Steenkamp family, the judge said: “Nothing I do or say today can reverse what happened to the deceased or her family on 14 February 2013”, but she hopes her judgment would provide some form of closure.
Steenkamp’s father, Barry, said afterwards: “I’m pleased that it’s over.”
The Steenkamps’ lawyer, Dup de Bruyn, told Agence France-Presse that the sentence would probably be served as two years in prison and three years under house arrest. “In effect, he gets three years’ correctional supervision and two years’ direct imprisonment.”
De Bruyn said Steenkamp’s parents were satisfied with the decision. “They feel it’s right.”
Pistorius killed Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year when he shot her through the bathroom door at his home in Pretoria. He insisted he thought he was firing at an intruder.
Pistorius was also given a three year sentence, suspended for five years, for a firearms offence.