By Jane Flanagan In Pretoria and Andrew Malone
Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius walked out of court on Friday, with legal experts predicting he wouldn’t spend a day behind bars.
The sprinter was found guilty of culpable homicide in the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but legal academics say a jail sentence is unlikely, and a Paralympic official confirmed that he would be allowed to resume his lucrative career.
Pistorius, 27, left the Pretoria High Court as a convicted killer – although crucially, not a murderer – and must wait until October 13 for sentencing. Culpable homicide carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, but no minimum.
Judge Thokozile Masipa is a keen advocate of leniency towards first-time offenders.
Criminal law expert Martin Hood said: “He is almost certainly, in my opinion, not going to jail.” Legal academic Stephen Tuson added: “It could even be the imposition of a fine or community service, or house arrest.”
As Pistorius stood to hear the judge clear him of murdering Steenkamp, 29, in February last year but find him guilty of manslaughter, he betrayed none of the emotion he had shown to the court during his six-month trial.
Loud sobs could be heard, however, only feet away as the dead model’s friend Gina Myers shook her head and wept.
Barry Steenkamp slapped his leg and grimaced. The Steenkamp family were desperately hoping their daughter’s killer would be jailed for the maximum life sentence.
During the lengthy court case, they heard that she had written a hauntingly prophetic note a few weeks before she was killed.
After she and Pistorius left a party on bad terms, she texted him to say: “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me.”
Such testy exchanges were common between the pair after they started dating in December 2012, less than three months before Steenkamp’s violent death.
There are many in South Africa – and throughout the world – who feel that this week’s verdict has allowed Pistorius to escape justice. After the verdict, Arnold, the patriarch of the large Pistorius family, expressed his “deep gratitude” to the judge for acquitting the sprinter of murder, and spoke of the “big burden that is now off our shoulders”.
Prosecutors expressed their disappointment at the court’s findings, but said they would wait until after sentencing before deciding whether to launch an appeal.
In a failed application to have the athlete’s bail revoked, prosecutor Gerrie Nel – apparently stung by Judge Masipa’s comments that he failed to make the case for murder – presumed “a lengthy sentence” for Pistorius, citing a recent nightclub scuffle, the fact that he was “a flight risk” and his suicidal feelings as compelling reasons to remand him.
Even if jailed, Pistorius could still be in his early 30s when he is free to pick up the pieces of his once-glittering career. And the International Paralympic Committee yesterday indicated it was an achievable goal.
In an interview that was seen by some as insensitive in both its timing and the language used, IPC spokesman Craig Spence described the convicted killer as “an inspiration to millions” who would be free “to compete again in the future”. He told Radio 5 Live: “If he wishes to resume his athletics career, then we wouldn’t step in his way – we would allow him to compete again in future.”
Whether Pistorius would be welcomed back by his fellow athletes is another question. Athletes and coaches who know him speak of a multi-millionaire whose life had been spiralling dangerously out of control for months before he killed Steenkamp.
“One minute he can be an angel, dark the next,” one athlete said. “He’s used to getting what he wants. There are different Oscars – a kind, polite Oscar, and a really nasty one.
“There is no point trying to calm down the really nasty Oscar. That Oscar is, frankly, a lunatic.”
Among those who knew Pistorius, few extend him any sympathy.
“I hope he gets the worst of the worst of what’s on offer in our prisons,” one said yesterday.
“He’s not a hero – he’s a violent killer and a coward. The world should curse every mention of his name.”