Prosecutors to appeal Pistorius’ 6-year jail sentence
Johannesburg — South African prosecutors announced their intention to appeal against Oscar Pistorius’ six-year jail sentence for murder on Thursday, calling it “shockingly” lenient and a decision that could bring the country’s justice system into “disrepute.”
The announcement prolongs the three-and-a-half year legal saga of Pistorius, the once-acclaimed double-amputee runner who fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home in 2013.
The National Prosecuting Authority said it would file its appeal papers on Thursday — the day of the deadline to appeal.
Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison by a judge on July 6, a sentence that is much shorter than the prescribed minimum of 15 years in jail for murder in South Africa. He could be released on parole after three years.
“We respectfully submit that the sentence of six years imprisonment, in all the circumstances, is disproportionate to the crime of murder committed,” the prosecuting authority said in a statement announcing it would appeal.
The sentence was “shockingly too lenient, and has accordingly resulted in an injustice and has the potential to bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” the prosecuting authority said.
Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, said in a statement Thursday that they “have always fully supported (chief prosecutor) Gerrie Nel and his team’s fight for justice for Reeva.” But Steenkamp’s parents had “no input in the decision of the state to appeal,” they said in the statement issued by their lawyer.
The 29-year-old Pistorius is currently serving his six-year sentence in a prison in the South African capital, Pretoria. Under South African law, he could be eligible for parole after serving half the sentence.
He also previously served one year in prison for manslaughter for shooting the 29-year-old Steenkamp, a model and reality TV star. That manslaughter conviction was upgraded to the more serious offense of murder after an earlier prosecution appeal, leading to a new sentencing.
Prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for Pistorius for the murder, but Judge Thokozile Masipa said there were compelling circumstances in Pistorius’ case to give him a lesser sentence. South African judges can deviate from minimum sentences if there are exceptional circumstances.
Pistorius’ defense lawyers and family said immediately after the sentencing that they accepted the judge’s decision. On Thursday, Pistorius family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said in an email to The Associated Press that they wouldn’t be commenting on the prosecution’s appeal.
Pistorius shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. Pistorius testified that he killed Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was an intruder hiding in the bathroom. Prosecutors said he shot her intentionally after an argument.
Explaining her decision when she sentenced Pistorius two weeks ago, Judge Masipa said the former Olympic runner was a good candidate for rehabilitation, was unlikely to commit another crime, and had shown what appeared to be genuine remorse over Steenkamp’s death. Masipa also noted that Pistorius had lost his career and was “ruined financially.”
Now, prosecutors must first ask the judge who sentenced Pistorius, Masipa, for permission to appeal her decision. If permission is granted, the appeal could go to South Africa’s Supreme Court, where prosecutors in Pistorius’ case have previously been successful.
Last year, the prosecution successfully appealed against Pistorius’ initial manslaughter conviction and had it changed to murder. Masipa was also the judge who acquitted Pistorius of murder before that verdict was overturned on appeal.
No date has been announced for the first hearing in the latest sentence appeal.