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World & Nation

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius leaves jail for life in family mansion

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius will serve his house arrest the home of his uncle, seen here on Oct. 20, in Pretoria, South Africa.

(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

Double amputee South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide for killing his girlfriend, served just under a year in prison -- avoiding the worst of South Africa’s prison system, notorious for its drugs, violence, gangs and rape.

After spending the first part of his five-year sentence in the protected environment of a single cell in a hospital wing because of his disability, Pistorius will serve the remaining four years of his sentence at his uncle Arnold Pistorius’ three-story mansion, with its gym, pool, a dozen bedrooms -- according to South African media -- and a sweeping manicured garden in the upscale Waterkloof neighborhood.

Last year, Pistorius was acquitted of murder for fatally shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013, when he fired four high-powered bullets into the toilet cubicle where she was. His claim that he believed she was an intruder was accepted by the court. But he was convicted of culpable homicide when the court found he was grossly negligent and reckless in the shooting.

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South African officials said Pistorius’ early release late Monday didn’t amount to special treatment but was in line with South African correctional policies, which say offenders who aren’t dangerous are eligible for release after serving a sixth of their sentence.

But critics complained that his jail conditions and early release were in stark contrast to the treatment of another famous South African hip-hop artist, Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye, serving eight years on the same charge -- culpable homicide -- who has been in jail for just under three years.

Maarohanye was initially convicted of murder after he and a friend drag raced their cars through Soweto in 2010 and collided with a group of schoolchildren, killing four of them. His murder conviction was overturned a year ago and replaced with a culpable homicide conviction.

Some South Africans expressed anger on Twitter that Pistorius, who is white, had been released while Maarohanye, who is black, remains in jail. Others called for Pistorius to go back to prison.

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“This is how law works, get a good lawyer, u wont stay long in jail, get a whack lawyer, u gon’ rot in jail e.g #OscarPistorius & #Jubjub,” tweeted one South African, Thando Mnguni.

“Kanye said it ‘Racism is still alive. They just be concealing it’ #oscarpistorious #JubJub,” tweeted Johannesburg teacher Amanda Aphane.

“People don’t really want jub jub out they just want to see Oscar back in jail nje,” tweeted another South African with the username @Umjonaiza.

Pistorius, who was due for release Tuesday after a parole board decision last week, was instead released late Monday night, in an apparent effort to avoid a media scrum.

Pistorius’ family released a statement early Tuesday that they were happy he was home and they would support him during the remainder of his sentence.

His brother, Carl Pistorius, seemed to suggest Pistorius rested well in the family home, tweeting Tuesday, “‘The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.’ - E. Joseph Cossman.”

A family spokeswoman, Anneliese Burgess, read a brief statement outside Arnold Pistorius’ home: “It is very important for the family to emphasize that Oscar’s sentence hasn’t been shortened or reduced. He’s simply entering the next phase of his sentence now. He will serve this under the strict conditions that govern correctional supervision.”

Steenkamp’s family had opposed Pistorius’ release, arguing that his crime deserved more time behind bars. However, Steenkamp family lawyer Tania Keon told South African radio that the precise timing of the release was irrelevant to Reeva’s parents, Barrie and June Steenkamp.

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“To them, it doesn’t matter whether he was released yesterday a few hours earlier or a few hours later,” she said Tuesday. “Whether he remains incarcerated or not, it makes no difference to them now because Reeva is still not coming back.”

The athlete still faces the possibility of more jail time, with prosecutors due to appeal his acquittal for murder over the shooting. The prosecutors argued Judge Thokozile Masipa erred  when she acquitted Pistorius on murder, based on a provision in South African law known as dolus eventualis -- the principle that if you are aware an action may kill someone, and do it anyway, you’re guilty of murder rather than culpable homicide.

The prosecution argues that when he fired four bullets into a small toilet cubicle, Pistorius, a gun expert, must have known the action would kill the person inside, even if he believed it was an intruder.

By the conditions of his release under correctional supervision Pistorius will have to undergo psychotherapy and agree to meet the Steenkamp family, should they wish it. He isn’t allowed to keep a gun, and will have to perform community service.

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