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Oscar Pistorius hobbles without prosthetics in plea for a lesser sentence

Oscar Pistorius hobbles without prosthetics in plea for a lesser sentence
Oscar Pistorius' prosthetics lay on the floor as he walks on his stumps in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 15. (Siphiwe Sibeko / Associated Press)

Oscar Pistorius, facing a possible 15 years in jail for murder, hobbled tearfully across a Pretoria courtroom Wednesday in a final desperate bid to avoid a long prison term for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The former Olympic athlete's defense used the demonstration to argue that his vulnerability on the night of the murder — hardly able to walk without the prosthetic legs he normally wears by day — mitigated his crime.

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But because Pistorius did not testify, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the court had no way to judge whether he was truly remorseful over the killing at his home in 2013.

The court could impose a sentence lower than the 15-year minimum for murder if there are strong mitigating circumstances. Defense lawyer Barry Roux urged such a reduction, arguing that Pistorius is a broken man who has "punished himself far more than any court."

Pistorius, who rose to global fame as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, was convicted last year of the murder of Steenkamp, whom he claims to have mistaken for an intruder when he shot her through a bathroom door. An earlier conviction for culpable homicide, or negligent killing, was overturned. He had served one year in prison for that before being released in October.

The trial has seen a bruising courtroom contest between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer, and the last day of the long legal drama was no different. After the demonstration by Pistorius of his unsteady gait on his stumps in front of the judge, Nel played his own dramatic card, calling on Judge Thokozile Masipa to lift a ban on the publication of photographs of Steenkamp's body.

He said the victim's parents, Barry and June Steenkamp, were in favor of showing the images in the hope it might deter similar crimes.

"We think it's time. It is time that people would see what those bullets did," Nel said. "The court should take into account what happened to her."

Pistorius' older brother, Carl, reacted with outrage. "This application is distasteful to all parties. Except perhaps some parties who stand to profit from such," he tweeted.

Roux said Pistorius did not intend to kill Steenkamp but had opened fire in a state of terror and vulnerability, unable to move swiftly on his stumps, believing there was an intruder in the house.

But Nel pointed to testimony on Tuesday from Barry Steenkamp, who said that when he has thought of the pain of his dying daughter, he has jabbed himself with a needle "to see if I could feel the same amount of pain."

"That is a broken man who gave evidence before this court," Nel said.

He said the only way that Pistorius' belief he was shooting an intruder could qualify as mitigation would be if the court regarded an intruder's life as less valuable than Steenkamp's.

In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the culpable homicide verdict and found Pistorius guilty of murder, concluding that he must have realized that firing four bullets through the door of a cubicle would kill whoever was inside. It also found that Pistorius had never offered a satisfactory explanation for his actions, a finding Nel hammered in his final address to the court.

Pistorius served a year in the hospital wing of Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria, sharing a small communal area and an outdoor courtyard with one other prisoner.

A psychologist appearing for Pistorius, Jonathan Scholtz, said in the court Monday that Pistorius told him he had been assaulted in prison, had overheard another inmate raped and seen the body of a man who committed suicide by hanging. He said Pistorius was in effect confined to his cell 18 hours a day.

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He testified that Pistorius was seriously ill with depression and anxiety and should not be in prison, but instead should be in a hospital. Nel countered that no one admitted him to a hospital when he was released by the parole board.

Masipa will hand down her sentence on July 6.

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