Steenkamps: law has run its course

By Nomaswazi Nkosi Time of article published Jul 7, 2016

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Nomaswazi Nkosi

PRETORIA: “I hope not to be here again.” Those were Barry Steenkamp’s parting words to the media outside the high court in Pretoria after Judge Thokozile Masipa handed convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius a six-year sentence for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius shot her on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

The grieving father did not have further comment on the outcome of the sentencing.

But the family’s lawyer, Dup de Bruyn, indicated that the family would do nothing further about the case – seemingly indicating their disinterest in appealing Pistorius’s sentence and that they had closed the chapter on the case.

“The law has run its course. There is nothing we can do now,” De Bruyn said.

However, prosecutor Gerrie Nel still has the option of lodging an appeal.

Pistorius spent the first night of his six-year term in the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre yesterday. His legal team and family have indicated they respected Judge Masipa’s sentence.

Annelise Burgess, the Pistorius family spokesperson, said: “The family asked me to make a very brief statement to say that they accept the sentence and they have no plans to appeal.

“The family has made it clear throughout this process that they respect the rule of law, and they respect the legal process and that’s exactly the same position they have today. That is the family’s response to today’s events.”

Andrew Fawcett, instructing attorney for Pistorius, said: “Just from the defence team, we respect the decision by Masipa and we will not be lodging any applications for leave to appeal going forward. Oscar will serve his sentence as handed down by Masipa.”

When asked what he felt about the sentence, he said it was fair under the circumstances.

During her sentencing, Judge Masipa said murder was a very serious charge, but felt that for Pistorius long-term imprisonment would not serve the interests of justice.

She considered the fact that he was a first-time offender, was unlikely to reoffend and had already served 12 months of his previous culpable homicide conviction.

The judge began by summarising the evidence given during the sentencing proceedings, and said she needed to decide on substantial and compelling circumstances presented to her during the sentencing proceedings.

Judge Masipa said the aggravating circumstances in the case were that Pistorius used a lethal weapon with high-calibre ammunition; he fired four shots knowing that someone was behind the closed door; he shot the firearm without using precautions (firing a warning shot); and that the person behind the door was stuck in a very small cubicle and unlikely to be a threat.

The mitigating circumstances were that Pistorius believed that an intruder had entered his home; he did not have his prosthesis on and felt vulnerable; his actions on that night supported the belief that there was an intruder in the house; he immediately took steps to try to save Reeva’s life, and implored Johan Stipp (his neighbour and a doctor) to do something to save her.

Judge Masipa said the mitigating circumstances outweighed the aggravating circumstances and justified deviation from the prescribed sentence of 15 years.

She disagreed with the State’s version that Pistorius was unremorseful and applauded him for his multiple attempts at reaching out to the Steenkamp family in an effort to apologise – efforts which were declined by the Steenkamps.

The judge also mentioned the public perception that Reeva and Pistorius had an argument in the early hours of that fateful day, which led to him intentionally killing her.

“When incorrect facts exist, as they do in this case, it is the duty of the court to correct them and put them in perspective, to prevent unjustified outrage from the public.”

She reiterated that there was no evidence to support that Reeva was in an abusive relationship with Pistorius, or that her murder could be considered gender-based violence. The judge believed that Pistorius showed signs he could be rehabilitated.

Pistorius, who looked well rested and groomed, sat with his head down during the proceedings, and stood when Judge Masipa handed down her sentence.

The former Paralympian said during his ITV (British channel) interview on June 24 that he struggled with the murder conviction, and that he told his legal team he could serve a sentence for culpable homicide but would not serve a single day for murder.

Jacqui Mofokeng, ANC Women League spokesperson, said the sentence was an insult to women. “What is the difference between five and six years? He got five years for culpable homicide and six years for murder. What is that?”

Legal expert Zola Majavu said in an interview he did not see the sentence coming.

“I was of the view no compelling and substantial circumstances were proven, but I guess the judge exercised her discretion. I will be very surprised if the State takes this lying down,” Majavu said.

He said there was no difference between the sentences the judge gave for both convictions. “Quite frankly, I do not think the decision was appropriate under these circumstances.”

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