World & Nation

Prosecutors challenge ‘shockingly light’ sentence for Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius
South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, in May. Prosecutors have filed for leave to appeal the verdict and sentence in his case.
(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

Prosecutors asked Pretoria’s High Court on Tuesday for leave to appeal the jail sentence handed to South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, saying it was “shockingly light, considering that a life has been lost.” They also asked for permission to appeal his murder acquittal.

Pistorius was sentenced last month to five years in prison after a court convicted him of culpable homicide, or intentional killing, for shooting to death his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius said that he thought she was an intruder and feared for his life when he fired four times through the door of a toilet cubicle where she had locked herself.

Despite finding that he was a poor witness, the court accepted Pistorius’ account, although it found that he was grossly negligent and hasty when he opened fire. He will be eligible to apply to serve out the remainder of his sentence at home after 10 months in jail.


Prosecutors argued in court documents that Judge Thokozile Masipa erred when she acquitted Pistorius of murder because he was trained in weapons use and fired “not one but four” high-caliber rounds into a small cubicle from which there was no escape, knowing there was a human being inside.

“The accused, on his own version, realized that a shot could ricochet and even hit him,” the prosecution papers said.

Pistorius, a double amputee, is serving his sentence in the hospital wing of a Pretoria prison along with eight other disabled inmates.

Pistorius’ lawyers argued unsuccessfully that prison would break Pistorius, who had lost everything -- his love, friends, house, career and all his money. But prosecutors Gerrie Nel and Andrea Johnson contended that Masipa was too lenient.


“The honorable judge erred in over-emphasizing the personal circumstances of the accused, and the fact that the accused was suffering from post-traumatic stress and ‘seems remorseful,’” the prosecutors maintained. “Not enough emphasis was placed on the horrendous manner in which the deceased died, coupled with the gruesome injuries she sustained when the accused shot and killed her.”

Prosecutors also contend that Masipa should have convicted Pistorius of unlawful possession of ammunition in his safe for which he did not have a license, arguing that his acquittal had huge implications for gun owners and the South African community. Pistorius said the ammunition belonged to his father and he did not intend to use it.

It is up to Masipa to rule on whether the appeal can go ahead. She has to be convinced that there is a reasonable chance that another court could find differently.

Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Pistorius shot Steenkamp intentionally after the couple had argued.

Steenkamp’s mother has recently given interviews contesting Pistorius’ version of events, saying that she believes a phone message her daughter sent to Pistorius in which she said he sometimes scared her. June Steenkamp also said that she believes Pistorius mistreated her daughter, suggesting that her death was more than a accident.

Pistorius’ uncle, Arnold Pistorius, was highly critical of the prosecutors, accusing them of pursuing a charge of premeditated murder despite the truth of the case.

Pistorius’ brother, Carl, tweeted recently that in Hebrew the word “Satan” means “prosecutor” or “accuser.” The word is more commonly translated as “adversary.”

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