JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Supreme Court more than doubled Oscar Pistorius’ murder sentence on Friday after the state argued the original jail term of six years for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was “shockingly lenient”.
The gold medal-winning athlete, known as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fiber prosthetics, was not in court to hear the new sentence of 13 years and five months handed down.
Steenkamp’s family were also absent but welcomed the sentence — the minimum 15 years prescribed for murder, minus the time Pistorius has already served — and said it showed justice could prevail in South Africa.
“This is an emotional thing for them. They just feel that their trust in the justice system has been confirmed this morning,” Tania Koen, a family spokeswoman, told Reuters.
Rights groups in a country beset by high levels of violent crime against women say Pistorius, 31, received preferential treatment compared to non-whites and those without his wealth or celebrity status.
Barry Steenkamp, the father of the slain model, told SABC television the family could now get on with their lives.
“I always, from the beginning, said justice had not been served, now it has,” he said.
In the same interview, her mother June Steenkamp said: We felt that we didn’t have justice for Reeva by that too-lenient sentence but now we have justice for her.”
Pistorius’ elder brother Carl wrote on Twitter: “Shattered. Heartbroken. Gutted.”
The athlete was jailed in July last year after being found guilty on appeal of murdering model and law graduate Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 by firing four shots through a locked bathroom door. The case attracted worldwide interest.
He had originally been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in jail. That conviction was increased to murder by the Supreme Court in December 2015 and his sentence extended to six years by trial judge Thokozile Masipa in July last year.
At the time, Masipa ruled that although the Steenkamps had suffered a great loss, Pistorius’ life and career were also in ruins, saying “a fallen hero can never be at peace” and that “a long term in prison will not serve justice”.
In a scathing criticism of that ruling, the appeals court said the court had “erred in deviating from the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years” imprisonment for murder.
“The sentence of six years’ imprisonment is shockingly lenient, to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offence,” said Judge Willie Seriti, who read out the court’s decision.
“I am of the view that there are no substantial and compelling circumstances which can justify the departure from the prescribed minimum sentence.”
Seriti also censured Pistorius, saying the athlete’s apology to the deceased’s family during the hearing did “not demonstrate any genuine remorse on his part”.
“The logical consequence is that the respondent … does not appreciate the gravity of his actions,” said Seriti.
‘BIRTHDAY OF LOVE AND TEARS’
State prosecutors led by advocate Andrea Johnson had told the appeals hearing this month that there were no mitigating circumstances to justify Pistorius’ six-year sentence.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux argued that Pistorius did not deliberately kill Steenkamp and the appeal should be thrown out.
Roux had said during the July 2016 trial that Pistorius’ disability and mental distress following the killing should be considered as reasons to reduce his sentence.
Even in prison, Pistorius has been in the news.
In August, he was allowed out to attend his maternal grandmother’s funeral and earlier that month spent a night in hospital. Prison officials declined to disclose details about his illness, but local media reports said he suffered chest pains and prison staff suspected a heart attack.
In August 2016, the athlete denied trying to kill himself after he was treated in hospital for wrist injuries.
On Pistorius’ birthday on Wednesday, his father Henke told local YOU magazine that although he was behind bars, it was still a special day for his family.
“It remains a day full of love and tears — a day like nobody ever should have to experience,” Henke Pistorius told YOU.
Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Catherine Evans