In the early morning of Thursday, 14 February 2013, Pistorius shot and killed South African model Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria Pistorius acknowledged that he shot Steenkamp, causing her death, but said that he mistook her for a possible intruder.
Pistorius’ trial for murder began on 3 March 2014 in Pretoria. On 20 May 2014, the trial proceedings were adjourned until 30 June to enable Pistorius to undergo psychiatric evaluation to establish whether he could be held criminally responsible for shooting Steenkamp.
Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed to a request for the evaluation by prosecutor Gerrie Nel after forensic psychiatrist Merryll Vorster testified for the defence that she had diagnosed Pistorius with generalized anxiety disorder.
On 30 June 2014, the trial resumed after the evaluation reports which said Pistorius could be held criminally responsible. The state prosecutor was quoted as saying, “Mr. Pistorius did not suffer from a mental illness or defect that would have rendered him criminally not responsible for the offence charged”. The defence closed its case on 8 July and closing arguments were heard on 7 and 8 August.
On 12 September, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide and one firearm-related charge, of reckless endangerment related to discharging a firearm in a restaurant. He was found not guilty of two firearm-related charges relating to illegal possession of ammunition and firing a firearm through the sunroof of a car.
On 21 October 2014, he received a prison sentence of a maximum of five years for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for the separate reckless endangerment conviction.
Pistorius’ brother Carl told a South African weekly that his brother did not receive any special privileges during his first six weeks in prison. He was incarcerated for 17 hours per day in his cell and was allowed one hour of outdoor exercise and one hour in the weight room daily. He did not have a private bathroom, but was given a stool to use in the communal shower room. According to his brother, Pistorius advised inmates in the hospital wing about exercise, and wanted to initiate a prison basketball program.
In June 2015, Pistorius was recommended for early release as early as August. South African Commissioner of Correctional Services Zach Modise told the BBC of the decision by the case management committee at the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria, where Pistorius was being held: “Under South African law he is eligible for release under ‘correctional supervision’ having served a sixth of his sentence.”
After Pistorius served approximately one-sixth of his prison term, his release date to house arrest was announced for 21 August 2015. This release was based on good behavior and the fact that he was not considered a danger to the community.
Pistorius was expected to remain under house arrest and correctional supervision, and was expected to perform community service as part of his continuing sentence. Regardless of his release from prison, Pistorius could not return to official athletic competition until the whole five years of his sentence was complete.
On 19 August 2015, his release was unexpectedly blocked by South Africa’s Justice Minister Michael Masutha. According to Masutha, the parole board’s decision for early release was “premature.” Legal experts noted that the move was likely due to political pressure and had implications for other cases of pending early release. He was released from prison on 19 October 2015.
On 4 November 2014, prosecutors applied to the sentencing judge for permission to appeal the culpable homicide verdict, stating that the five-year prison term was “shockingly light, inappropriate and would not have been imposed by any reasonable court”.
Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled on 10 December 2014 that the prosecution could challenge her ruling of acquitting Pistorius of premeditated murder and the lesser charge of culpable homicide. However, she ruled that the state could not appeal the length of the sentence. The case was then set for appeal in front of a five-person panel at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The date for prosecutors to submit court papers outlining their arguments was set for 17 August 2015, and the date for the defense team’s response was set for 17 September 2015. The date for the appeal hearing was set for November 2015.
The prosecutors’ argument rested on Judge Masipa’s application of the legal principle of dolus eventualis(whether an accused did actually foresee the outcome of his actions, rather than whether he or she should have), and that the judge made an error in concluding Pistorius had not foreseen that by firing four shots through the closed door of the toilet cubicle, he would kill or injure whoever was behind the door.
The appeal was heard on 3 November 2015, in the Supreme Court of Appeal, Bloemfontein. The matter was heard before 5 Supreme Court judges. By a unanimous decision, the court overturned Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction and found him guilty of murder in the death of Reeva Steenkamp. Judge Eric Leach read the summary of judgment.
The panel of five judges found for the prosecutor’s argument that Pistorius must have known that someone would die if he fired through the closed door into a small toilet cubicle. In the words of Judge Leach, “Although he may have been anxious, it is inconceivable that a rational person could have believed he was entitled to fire at this person with a heavy-calibre firearm, without taking even that most elementary precaution of firing a warning shot, which the accused said he elected not to fire as he thought the ricochet might harm him.”
According to the judgement, the person who Pistorius thought was in the cubicle had nothing to do with the results of his actions. The culpable homicide verdict was replaced with a murder conviction, and the case was referred back to the trial court for a sentencing hearing when it reconvenes on 18 April 2016.
On 8 December 2015, it was announced Pistorius would continue to remain free on bail but under house arrest pending his appeal to the Constitutional Court. On 3 March 2016 it was announced Pistorius had been denied his right to appeal, and will next be due in court on 13 June 2016 to begin a 5-day sentencing hearing for the murder conviction, concluding on 17 June 2016.
On 15 June 2016, the sentencing was adjourned by Judge Thokozile Masipa until 6 July 2016
Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius sat and listened to the hour-long session mostly with his head down as judge Massipa announced a 6 year jail term. He hugged his sister after the verdict, and was taken to Pretoria’s Khosi Mampuru prison.
Many have expressed shock at Pistorius’s sentence, which is much less than the prescribed minimum for murder. South Africans have taken to social media to express their unhappiness, with some describing the prison term as an insult.
Outside court, legal experts said the sentence was too little. “The judge was sympathetic and empathetic to Pistorius. It was clear in the tone of her entire judgement,” one said.
But Judge Masipa said she had carefully considered the circumstances around Reeva Steenkamp’s death and her sentence needed to be fair to both Pistorius and the family of the deceased.
South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and some say a short sentence will send the wrong message to would-be-offenders.
With Files from the BBC and Wikipedia