DURBAN - Clutching the silver feather necklace Reeva Steenkamp was wearing when she was shot dead by Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, June Steenkamp looked stressed as details of her daughter’s murder on Friday were recounted in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
Steenkamp took her front-row seat early in the morning, flanked by her lawyer, Tania Koen, and her best friend, Jennifer Strydom.
She did not talk much, but her eyes sparkled as she spoke about the necklace – two silver feathers next to each other, which she had named “Feather of love” and “Reeva Girls”. She said it personified their love for each other.
Her lawyer said the investigating officer in Reeva’s murder case, Captain Mike van Aard , returned the necklace to June soon after the murder.
“He asked whether this was the link between Reeva and her mother – their love for each other. That is why the feathers are a confirmation of love,” Koen said.
Friday morning was clearly a stressful time for June, especially when the justices posed many questions after the head of the prosecution team, Andrea Johnson, opened her arguments by saying that trial Judge Thokozile Masipa erred in sentencing Pistorius to a six-year jail sentence on murder.
She said this sentence was shockingly lenient and inappropriate for a crime such as murder, which prescribed a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.
Justice Ronnie Bosielo, who led the five-judge team, repeatedly asked: “Where did she err?”
One of Johnson’s points was that Pistorius never showed remorse for what he had done. “He may be sorry for what he had done, but it is not remorse,” she said.
Bosielo responded: “He made various attempts to talk to the family. What more can he do? How more must he verbalise his remorse?”
The State turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in an attempt to obtain a harsher sentence for Pistorius and argued that Masipa had “undue sympathy” for the athlete and the six-year sentence did not adequately reflect the seriousness of the crime.
The State asked the court to grant leave to appeal and to deliver a verdict on the appeal itself. Bosielo said the SCA was reluctant to meddle in sentences meted out by other courts, but Johnson said this was a case where it was warranted.
It was the second time the State had turned to the SCA, as it was aggrieved by Masipa’s findings. In December 2015, the State had the trial court’s verdict of culpable homicide overturned and replaced with a verdict of murder.
The events of that morning, when Pistorius fired four shots at the toilet door behind which Reeva was hiding, featured prominently during Friday's appeal arguments. Advocate Barry Roux, acting for Pistorius, was grilled by several of the judges, who asked repeatedly why he fired the four shots into the toilet cubicle.
“To fire four shots into the door and there is no way out of the toilet, is critical,” Justice Pieter Meyer said.
Both Justices Bosielo and Willie Seriti said they had read the record of the proceedings and were still in the dark about why Pistorius had fired the shots. Pistorius maintained throughout his trial that he believed there were intruders behind the door and said he wanted to protect Reeva and himself.
On Friday, Johnson argued that Masipa took the fact that Pistorius feared there were intruders in his house, as a mitigating factor.
“His evidence was so contradictory that one simply does not know its true nature... We still do not have a true explanation as to why he had shot her,” she said.
She referred to the remarks of the SCA when it overturned the culpable homicide. The justices at the time said: “He never offered a reasonable explanation.”
Johnson also said Pistorius’s disability further served as a mitigating factor when Masipa sentenced him. She pointed out that despite his disabilities, he had overcome a lot and became a Paralympic champion.
“There is simply no reason to justify his lenient sentence,” she said.
Roux argued that Pistorius was vulnerable at the time because he had not been wearing his prostheses and that he feared crime.
“Why did he not then take the stand and explain what happened? Why did he not explain the four shots,” Justice Meyer asked.
Roux said while he could not condone the four shots, one had to look at things through Pistorius’s eyes. “He did not fire with evil intent,” Roux said.
Pistorius turns 31 on November 22 at the Atteridgeville Prison, with the cloud of a possibly harsher sentence hanging over his head. The court reserved judgment because, it said, the issues were complex.
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