World & Nation

Prison would devastate Oscar Pistorius, probation officer says

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius rubs his eyes as he sits in court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Oct. 14.
(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

A probation officer employed by the defense team for Oscar Pistorius recommended Tuesday that he be spared a prison term for the killing of his girlfriend, arguing that appalling jail conditions including overcrowding, gang rape, violence, drugs, AIDS and poor hygiene would be devastating to the South African Olympic athlete.

Pistorius has been convicted of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, in the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

The athlete fired four bullets through the toilet door off his bathroom, killing Steenkamp. He claimed that after hearing a noise in the bathroom, he thought she was an intruder or intruders, a story accepted by Judge Thokozile Masipa, who is now considering sentencing for the double-leg-amputee runner.

The probation officer, Annette Vergeer, is the fourth witness called by the defense in Pistorius’ effort to avoid a jail term. On Monday his therapist, Lore Hartzenberg, said Pistorius was a broken man who had lost everything, including his love, career, sponsorships and endorsements.


Vergeer said South African jails were badly overcrowded and that Pistorius would have to expose his stumps in front of other inmates because there were no private showers, a situation that she said would have “a severe impact” on him.

She also said there were no rails in the showers that would enable him to balance on his stumps.

He would also be vulnerable to gang rape, she said.

Any jail term would break Pistorius, she said, recommending that he instead be placed under house arrest and perform community service.


“It will not assist him but break him as a person, take his future away and a broken person will be reintroduced to society,” Vergeer said. “He’s clearly an extremely broken person and will only deteriorate if he’s incarcerated.

“All that prison will do to the accused is punish him in a manner that is not constructive.

“His disability and state of mind would cause prison to be an excessive punishment.”

Cross-examining Vergeer, prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked if she believed that disabled people shouldn’t be jailed.

“It is so more difficult for a disabled person. If it’s difficult for an able person, how much more difficult must it be for a disabled person?” Vergeer said. She also said there was a shortage of social workers to rehabilitate prisoners.

Vergeer said she believed Pistorius was remorseful and had taken responsibility for Steenkamp’s shooting. She noted that he is a first-time offender and that she thinks there is no danger he would reoffend. She said his sentence began “on the day he shot the deceased.”

Pistorius’ agent, Peet Van Zyl, earlier listed charitable works performed by Pistorius. Under cross-examination by Nel, he conceded that much of that effort was required by Pistorius’ sponsors and that it was usual for top athletes to carry out such philanthropic work.

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