BLOEMFONTEIN (Reuters) - South Africa’s top appeals court could send “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius back to jail on Thursday for at least 15 years for killing his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013 in a sensational case that continues to fascinate and divide the nation.
Last year a judge gave the disgraced Olympic and Paralympic gold medalist a five-year jail sentence for “culpable homicide” of Reeva Steenkamp, but prosecutors say he should be convicted of murder for firing four shots through a locked toilet door.
The athlete left jail on parole in October and is meant to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest, but the Supreme Court of Appeals could now overrule the original verdict and find him guilty of murder or order a retrial.
State prosecutors who lodged the appeal say Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp and that she fled to a toilet during a row. Pistorius denies deliberately killing Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder at his home.
Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby but who went on to become a global sporting hero, is not expected to attend Thursday’s court session in Bloemfontein, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Johannesburg. A judgment is expected about 09:45am (0745 GMT).
The case has prompted a fierce debate in a country beset by high levels of violent crime. Some rights groups say the white track star - dubbed “Blade Runner” because of the carbon fiber prosthetic blades he uses to race - got preferential treatment.
“If the court finds against Pistorius, he’s got big problems as he would have to be sentenced afresh. The question is whether the previous judge misapplied the law or not,” Johannesburg-based criminal law attorney Zola Majavu said.
At the original trial in September last year, Judge Masipa ruled that the state had failed to prove intent or “dolus eventualis”, a legal concept that centers on a person being held responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions.
Dolus eventualis refers to whether a person foresees the possibility that his or her action will cause death but carries on regardless.
Anneliese Burgess, the Pistorius family’s spokeswoman, said the media need not camp outside the home of the athlete’s uncle in a wealthy suburb of Waterkloof in the capital Pretoria where he has been living since being released on parole.
“To save all of you the trouble of camping out at the Pistorius home tomorrow, I thought it best to let you know in advance that there will not be an on-camera statement made tomorrow,” she said.
Steenkamp’s mother June, who has said she does not want retribution, attended the appeal hearing on Nov. 3. It was not clear whether she would attend court on Thursday.
Members of the ruling African National Congress party’s Women’s League have attended the court sessions in solidarity with Steenkamp’s family and in support of women’s rights.
Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Gareth Jones