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Pistorius’ lawyer urges leniency; prosecutor calls for 10-year term

Oscar Pistorius trial
Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves court in Pretoria, South Africa, last month.
(Ihsaan Haffejee / European Pressphoto Agency)

The lawyer for South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius argued that he was “a victim” in his killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and had lost everything, including all his property and sponsorships. He called for him to be spared jail because of his disability.

As Pistorius quietly wept in court, his advocate, Barry Roux, argued that Pistorius had already been harshly punished because of negative media reporting, leaving him permanently damaged.

But prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Judge Thokozile Masipa must take into account the sanctity of human life, calling for a jail term of 10 years. He said it was “disingenuous” for Pistorius, who achieved so much in life competing against able-bodied athletes, to argue he cannot go to jail because he is disabled.

“He’s not a victim. He cannot be a victim,” Nel said. “He caused it. We have victims in this case.”

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Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for firing four shots through a bathroom door, killing Steenkamp in February last year, in a case that made waves around the world. He claimed he feared for his life, believing there was an intruder in the toilet cubicle, an argument accepted by Judge Masipa, who acquitted him of murder.

The blow-by-blow telecast of the celebrity murder trial -- a first for South Africa -- enthralled audiences, transfixed by the athlete’s fall from golden sports icon to stumbling witness who frequently retched and wept.

The prosecution and defense put their arguments to the court Friday on the appropriate sentence. Pistorius will learn his fate Tuesday, when Judge Masipa hands down her sentence.

Nel said Pistorius’ negligence was so gross that it bordered the athlete foreseeing that his actions would kill, citing the athlete’s comment that he decided not to fire a warning shot because he feared it would ricochet and hurt him.

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He said Pistorius fired knowing there was a person in the toilet cubicle and used a high-powered gun and Black Talon ammunition, designed to cause maximum damage.

If he is jailed, he will be housed in a hospital wing of a nearby prison, designed to accommodate his disability. Roux argued that a hospital wing, with no privileges, could never be suitable for Pistorius.

But Nel said it was inappropriate that Pistorius remain in his uncle’s luxury home in the Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof, going out to church and to train as an athlete.

Showing rare emotion, Nel cited the emotional evidence of Steenkamp’s cousin, Kim Martin, who testified Thursday that a message needed to be sent to society that what Pistorius did was “not all right.” She said he had “ruined” her family.

“It must be seen as a voice representing society. Although she spoke about the family, every other mother that listened to her evidence felt the pain. I did, My Lady. That cry of, ‘Please Court, make this accused pay,’ was genuine,” Nel said.

He argued that the court’s obligation was to deter similar action in the future, to try to ensure that no family ever had to endure what the Steenkamps had suffered.

Roux said Pistorius caused the death of someone he loved when he was in an anxious state of mind. He would never recover from the damage he suffered as a result. He suggested the prosecution should have apologized to Pistorius for putting him on trial for murder.

“He was on the rise. He was like an icon. He was going to make lots of money,” Roux said. But now, “It’s a person that’s down and out. He’s not only broke, he’s broken.

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“He’s lost everything, He was an icon in the eyes of South Africans. He was denigrated to the extent that all that was left was a raged kiler, a cold-blooded killer, a liar and all that is horrible.

“He lost all his sponsors. He lost all his money. He hasn’t even got money to pay for legal expenses.”

But Nel argued that Pistorius was a privileged person whose arguments about what he had lost could never stack up against the losses of the real victims in the case, Steenkamp and her family.

“The seriousness of the crime, the interests of society and those of the victims by far outweigh the personal circumstances of the accused. We have a privileged person, a person that comes to court and says, ‘When this happened I could have made millions. Now I can’t because I killed the deceased. So I can’t make millions. Feel sorry for me.’ That cannot be an argument. He caused it himself,” Nel said.

He rejected Pistorius’ argument that he couldn’t go to prison because there were no disabled railings in the showers in jail -- yet he had no such railings in his own bathroom.

“One would think that perhaps we use our handicap as a handicap on call. When it suits us, we’re handicapped,” said Nel.

Roux countered that Pistorius had a bench in his own shower, while Nel said the Department of Correctional Services could easily provide such a bench.

Follow @robyndixon_LAT on Twitter for the latest news out of Africa.

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