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Oscar Pistorius: South African authorities issue arrest warrant for athlete

June Steenkamp

June Steenkamp, center, the mother of slaying victim Reeve Steenkamp, is comforted as an appeals court in Bloemfontein, South Africa, rules in the Oscar Pistorius case on Dec. 3.

(Johan Pretorius / Associated Press)

South African prosecutors on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Oscar Pistorius, after the double-amputee athlete’s conviction in the death of his girlfriend was changed by an appeals court from reckless killing to the more serious charge of murder.

A High Court hearing is expected next week to set a date for sentencing. Pistorius may apply for bail at the hearing, pending sentencing.

The arrest warrant, reported in local media, means Pistorius may be forced to spend his second Christmas in prison.

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The Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday swept away the trial judge’s initial ruling in Pistorius’ case, saying she made legal errors and ignored key evidence in a confusing judgment. The appeals court imposed a murder verdict and sent the case back to High Court for sentencing.

Pistorius spent a year in jail in the hospital wing of Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II Prison, in a narrow single room with a metal bed, a wash basin, a table, yellow walls, blue prison sheets, a cupboard and a window high in the wall.

South African prison authorities took the unusual step this week of allowing journalists to tour his former cell.

Under the previous widely criticized five-year sentence for culpable homicide, or reckless killing, Pistorius was allowed to leave prison in October to serve out the remaining four years at his uncle’s Pretoria home. He is now expected to receive a new sentence that could include a hefty prison term and potentially a return to the same hospital cell.

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Although prison authorities deny Pistorius had received special treatment, the conditions in his cell were a far cry from the crowded, dormitory-style conditions where most South African prisoners are housed -- and where violence and tuberculosis are rife.

“We are trying to arrange with the Pretoria High Court that he can appear before court, where the matter will be formally postponed for sentencing. We are trying to do this as a matter of extreme urgency,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku told local media Friday.

Pistorius killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day 2013 but the trial court accepted his story that he thought she was an intruder when he fired four high-powered bullets through the door of an enclosed toilet cubicle in his bathroom. The appeals court didn’t interfere with that finding.

But in a unanimous decision, the five judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Pistorius, well-trained in weapons, must have known that someone would die when he opened fire.

The appeal centered on a form of intent in South African law, dolus eventualis, which means that a person can foresee that his or her actions may kill but goes ahead anyway. The identity of the victim isn’t significant in such cases.

The court rejected the defense contention that Pistorius felt extremely tense and anxious because he was not wearing his prosthetic legs and couldn’t flee the threat he believed emanated from the bathroom. It found he knew what he was doing when he fired and that he understood that a person might die.

Steenkamp’s mother, June, who was in the Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday, told South African television that the verdict showed respect for her daughter and was a sign the legal system in South Africa was working.

Follow @robyndixon_LAT on Twitter for news out of Africa

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