Oscar Pistorius is expected to be released on parole by the end of August, three months before an appeal begins at South Africa’s Supreme Court that could see his conviction upgraded from manslaughter to murder.
South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services confirmed that the athlete had not personally applied for parole, but would automatically be eligible after serving a sixth of his five-year sentence for “culpable homicide” – South Africa’s equivalent of manslaughter.
That period – 10 months – is up at the end of August. A parole board at Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria, where Pistorius is being held, made the recommendation last week. “He’s behaving himself very well,” acting National Commissioner of Correctional Services Zach Modise told media. “He hasn’t given us any problems.”
South African authorities have also confirmed that the Supreme Court will hear an appeal, made by the State Prosecutor’s office, to have his culpable homicide sentence changed to murder. If that were to happen the athlete, who shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a locked bathroom door at his home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day 2013, would almost certainly return to prison, and would be likely to receive a minimum 15-year sentence.
Ms Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, have condemned the decision to release Pistorius. In a strongly worded letter, which the Correctional Services Department said they had taken into consideration, they said: “We do not seek to avenge her death and we do not want Mr Pistorius to suffer; that will not bring her back to us. However, a person found guilty of a crime must be held accountable for their actions.
“Statistics show that our society is under continuous attack from criminals and murderers. Incarceration of 10 months for taking a life is simply not enough. We fear that this will not send out the proper message and serve as the deterrent it should.”
The terms of Pistorius’s parole will not be made public, but it is expected – at least for the first part of the sentence – to amount effectively to house arrest. It is extremely unlikely, for example, that Pistorius would be able to compete at the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro next year.
He would not be expected to attend the appeal hearing, which will be a matter of legal argument only, heard by five judges. No new witnesses or evidence will be submitted. It will simply be for the judges to decide whether Judge Thokozile Masipa correctly interpreted the law when she found Pistorius not guilty of murder, even though he had fired four times through a locked toilet door into a tiny cubicle which, having heard the door slam shut, he knew was occupied.
Pistorius has consistently maintained he believed he was shooting at an intruder who he imagined had entered his house through the unlocked bathroom window. But the appeal will hinge on whether his actions were nevertheless so reckless as to have constituted murder, not manslaughter.
Judge Masipa concluded that the athlete “did not foresee” that his actions could kill, but that he should have foreseen. The state will argue that this alone is enough to secure a second-degree murder conviction. That case could take more than a year to conclude.
Pistorius has sold the house in the Pretoria suburbs at which the shooting took place, and has been left with extensive legal costs. During his court case he stayed at his uncle Arnold’s house, and it is expected he would live here during his period of parole.
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