A family representative of Reeva Steenkamp, who was killed by South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, told Pretoria’s High Court the athlete should “pay for what he has done” with a prison sentence.
Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, has been pressing hard for the athlete to avoid a jail term and instead be kept under house arrest for three years, enabling him to go back to his athletics career in the near future – a proposal that the prosecution has called “shockingly inappropriate.”
Roux has suggested South African prisons are not suitable for Pistorius because of his disability.
But Kim Martin, Steenkamp’s first cousin, said a punishment of house arrest didn’t fit the severity of his crime.
Pistorius has been convicted of culpable homicide – negligent killing – for firing four times into a toilet off his bathroom in February last year, killing Steenkamp, whom he was dating. He was acquitted of murder.
The court has to take into account the degree of negligence and severity of the crime in reaching a sentence, as well as other issues including prospects for rehabilitation, Pistorius’ remorse and the expectations of society.
Martin’s testimony, for the first time in the trial, offered an insight into Steenkamp’s personality. Martin portrayed a young woman passionate about animals, determined to support her financially struggling parents, and eager to fight for the empowerment of girls in order to prevent them being embroiled in abusive relationships.
She had experienced an abusive relationship with a jockey and wanted girls to be empowered to avoid the same pitfall, Martin said.
Martin wept during her testimony, recalling the moment she learned on the radio that Pistorius had shot his girlfriend, before racing to her mother’s house to find her hysterical with grief.
She described the devastated family scene at the home of Steenkamp’s parents in the aftermath of her killing: her father, Barry Steenkamp, sat in a corner, weeping, while her mother, June, walked around, deeply sedated, shrugging as if in disbelief.
Martin said Pistorius’ fatal shooting of Steenkamp ruined the family. Barry Steenkamp had suffered two strokes that Martin believed were due to the death of his daughter.
“I really believe the accused Mr. Pistorius needs to pay for what he has done.
“We just feel that to take someone’s life, to shoot someone that’s behind a door that is harmless and unarmed needs sufficient punishment.
“Our family are not people who are after revenge. Mr. Pistorius needs to pay for what he’s done, for taking Reeva’s life.” Martin said.
“We need a message to society that you cannot get away with this and do this. I don’t feel that the suggested punishment would fit the crime. It would enable him to feel in his mind that what he’s done is all right and it’s not,” she said.
Martin said Barry Steenkamp wished to address the court on sentencing, but felt too emotional, sure that he would have broken down.
“I knew I had to be here, I had to do this, I had to do this for Reeva, I owe her this. I know Reeva needs a voice. My way of looking at this is to pay her back for what she meant to me,” Martin, often tearful, told the court.
The acting commissioner of South African prisons, Zach Modise, said South African prisons were able to accommodate disabled prisoners, and would be able to provide suitable facilities for Pistorius.
He conceded there were problems in South African prisons -- such as gangs, prohibited items and overcrowding -- that existed in prison facilities the world over.
But he said that because of Pistorius’ disability, he would be kept in a hospital wing where there were baths and rails on walls for balance.
But Roux cited a recent news report in which prison gang leader Khalil Subjee issued a threat against Pistorius.
“Anyone who thinks they can come here and live like a king will have a hit on their head,” Subjee said in March, according to South African media reports. “If he thinks he is going to come here and buy his way to get computers and cellphones and a lavish lifestyle, he must know that will never happen for as long as I am around,” Subjee reportedly said.
Roux sought a guarantee from Modise that Pistorius would not go into the normal prison system. He said he had received calls from prison warders telling him that many showers didn’t have doors.
Modise responded that if jailed, Pistorius’ needs would be assessed within six hours of his arrival in prison, and confirmed the athlete would be kept in the hospital wing because of his disability.
Final submissions from both sides on sentencing will be completed Friday. It’s not clear whether Judge Thokozile Masipa will bring down a sentence Friday, or whether there will be a break.