Masipa gives #OscarPistorius 6 years for murder
Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to six years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a sentencing more than two years in the making.
And while Pistorius was labelled as unremorseful by the State throughout his trial and sentencing proceedings, Judge Thokozile Masipa declared she believed the athlete truly regretted his actions.
Pistorius was arrested in February 2013 for shooting Steenkamp four times through a closed door at his Pretoria East home, claiming he believed she was an intruder entering through the bathroom window.
The paralympian was convicted of murder in December last year after the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned his initial culpable homicide conviction.
He returned to the high court in Pretoria last month where the State and defence argued in aggravation and mitigation of his minimum 15 year sentence, with defence advocate Barry Roux and prosecutor Gerrie Nel once again locking horns.
On Wednesday morning Judge Masipa was sympathetic towards Pistorius in her sentencing judgment, ultimately choosing to lessen the minimum sentence for the athlete.
The judge first acknowledged that she had to take into account the effects of the crime on the victims, primary and secondary, as well as provide a judgment that blended mercy with the need for retribution.
She summarised the evidence provided by the defence, starting with a pre-sentencing report by Professor Jonathan Scholtz, an expert who summarised Pistorius's deteriorating mental state. He suggested Pistorius was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It was Scholtz's report that recommended Pistorius should not testify during the sentencing proceedings last month, as he was simply not well enough. According to the psychologist, Pistorius had isolated himself and had changed his attitude towards firearms. The professor also said that Pistorius had been subjected to mistreatment by the media and the public at large.
Masipa also referred to Pistorius's pastor, who described Pistorius as a "broken man" since he had murdered Steenkamp.
Pistorius's personal circumstances had not changed much since the initial culpable homicide trial, according to the judge.
She acknowledged Pistorius had served almost a year in prison already for the initial conviction, having finished numerous rehabilitation programs during that team.
But the judge was quick to point out that Pistorius's claims that he had seen a dead body in prison had been disproven, and that Scholtz's testimony and report should not be a key mitigating factor.
According to the judge, Scholtz had proven to be a poor witness and his report lacked veracity.
She said it did not matter that Pistorius thought the victim was an intruder, and that he was ultimately still guilty of trying to murder the perceived robber.
"(This) does not make the offence any less serious," she said.
Judge Masipa continued by saying the interests of society were important, but accepted that a social perception had been created that Pistorius had tried to directly kill Steenkamp instead of an intruder.
"There is not a shred of evidence placed before this court that supports such a perception," she said.
The judge added there was no evidence of an abusive relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp.
While society has a right to demand justice, she said the expectations of punishment had to be reasonable, and not tainted by incorrect perceptions of the accused.
She then moved onto the testimony of Steenkamp's family, who told the court that they were still intensely pained by the loss of life.
Judge Masipa acknowledged that Steenkamp was financially supporting her parents, Barry and June, and that the parents struggled emotionally on special occasions because of the young woman's absence.
Barry Steenkamp had told the court last month that he had struggled to let go of his daughter, and still spoke with her each day and surrounded himself with her images at home.
Meanwhile, Steenkamp's cousin Kim Martin had said she had isolated herself because of the attention brought to the family by the high-profile murder.
Masipa believed, however, that the defence had compelling circumstances allowing her to deviate from the minimum 15 year sentence.
"Each case ought still be decided on it's own peculiar facts," she said.
In aggravation of sentence, she said Pistorius, a well trained firearm user, had used a high calibre gun knowing full well someone was behind the door on which he fired.
In mitigation, she said Pistorius, as a double amputee, had felt vulnerable when he thought an intruder had entered his home.
Pistorius had also begged those first on the scene of the crime to save Steenkamp's life.
While Nel had argued Pistorius showed no remorse for his crime, Masipa disagreed. She said that Pistorius had tried multiple times, unsuccessfully, to contact the Steenkamp family to apologise. She said it was very difficult for an accused to ask the family of his victim for forgiveness.
"I am of the view that the mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating factors," she said.
Judge Masipa acknowledged that little could be done to reduce the pain and suffering of Steenkamp's family.
However, she said the public's incorrect perception that Pistorius had attacked Steenkamp because of an argument was impossible to ignore.
"Our courts are courts of law, not of public opinion," she said.
According to the judge, she had an obligation to set the record straight and the court should not be manipulated by the public's seeming desire for a harsh punishment.
She said ignoring Pistorius's disability as a mitigating factor would also be "an injustice".
But the judge believed a non-custodial sentence, as suggested by the defence, would not be appropriate.
She also said that Pistorius had already lost his career and wealth, and that he had struggled to come to terms with his actions.
The fact that he was a first offender meant he was not likely to re-offend, and that a lengthy prison sentence was not necessary.
She therefore sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison.