PRETORIA (Reuters) - Prosecutors called on Friday for South African Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius to be jailed for at least 10 years for killing his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day last year, and sentencing in his sensational trial was set for Tuesday.
Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated as a baby and who was long admired as an inspiration for disabled people, was convicted of culpable homicide last month for the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model, at his luxury home. Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.
“The minimum term that society will be happy with will be 10 years imprisonment,” chief state prosecutor Gerrie Nel said at the close of a five-day sentencing hearing in Pretoria.
“This is a serious matter. The negligence borders on intent. Ten years is the minimum,” Nel told the court.
Judge Thokozile Masipa is to sentence the 27-year-old Pistorius on Tuesday, ending a six-month trial that has been televised from start to finish, captivating millions around the world.
The defense and prosecution teams spent much of the hearing arguing over whether Pistorius should go to jail or be punished with a suspended sentence, house arrest or community service. Legal experts are split on the likely outcome.
A non-custodial sentence would be likely to spark public anger, fuelling a perception among black South Africans that, 20 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule, wealthy whites can still secure preferential justice. Masipa is only the second black female judge in South Africa.
“We shouldn’t fail the parents. We shouldn’t fail society. Society may lose its trust in the court,” Nel said.
The trial has been one of the most closely watched of its kind in history with viewers gripped by the dramatic fall of a man widely admired as a symbol of triumph over adversity.
Steenkamp’s parents said after last month’s verdict that “justice was not served” when Pistorius avoided the more serious murder charge, which would have meant a compulsory jail term.
Pistorius offered the Steenkamps $34,000 from the sale of his car in what his defense team said was a sign of his sorrow at the pain he had caused them. Reeva’s mother, June, rejected what she called “blood money”, the court heard this week.
Nel said this was not a genuine display of remorse. “The offer is nothing but an attempt to influence sentence,” he said.
Defense attorney Barry Roux earlier said the double-amputee sprinter should be given community service because he had shown remorse and been punished enough since he shot dead Steenkamp through a toilet door in his Pretoria apartment.
“He was an icon for what he has achieved. He’s lost everything. He lost all his sponsors. He lost all his money. He has nothing. There is nothing left of this man,” Roux said.
“He wants to make good as far as possible. Serious regard should be given to a community-based sentence so something good can come out of this.”
Nel said that house arrest or community service would be “shockingly disproportionate” with the crime.
Pistorius, known as “Blade Runner” because of the carbon-fiber prosthetics he uses on the track, escaped the murder charge when Masipa ruled the state failed to prove he intended to kill when he fired four 9mm rounds into the toilet cubicle.
Pistorius wiped tears from his eyes as Roux condemned the media for “attacking” the double-amputee athlete with “lies” about the night of the shooting as they encouraged the public to believe he deliberately murdered Steenkamp.
“He was denigrated. It must be punishment in itself to be called a ‘cold blooded murderer’,” Roux said, referring to one newspaper headline written before the verdict.
Nel countered by saying Pistorius “loved” the media when they covered his athletic triumphs and he could “never be a victim” because he was responsible for his own downfall.
The head of the prison service Zach Modise told the court on Thursday that Pistorius would be committed to the hospital wing of one of South Africa’s toughest prisons if he is sentenced to jail term.
Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Mark Heinrich