Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic athlete who shot and killed his girlfriend in 2013, has been sentenced to 5 years in a South African prison for culpable homicide.  The judge acquitted Pistorius of murder.  South Africa does not have a jury system.  Judge Masipa cited the “gross negligence” of Pistorius’ actions when he shot through a toilet cubicle door in his home not knowing who was on the other side.  Pistorius said that he thought that it was an intruder.  Pistorius could be paroled after 10 months to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrested according to South African law.   Pistorius was also sentenced to 3 years in prison for unlawfully firing a gun in a restaurant in an unrelated incident weeks before Reeva Steenkamp’s death.  She suspended the sentence as long as Pistorius is not convicted of another firearm offense within 5 years.

The prosecution recommended a tough sentence and the defense asked for leniency because Pistorius had already suffered emotionally and financially.  The judge said that her decision was a balancing act between the prosecution and defense arguments.

“The following is what I consider a sentence that is fair and just both to society and the accused,” Judge Masipa said.

The prosecution’s spokesman, Nathi Mncube, said that they are disappointed in the conviction and have not decided whether to appeal the sentence, “We have not made up our minds whether we’re going to appeal…”  He added that there was an “appetite” to appeal.  Prosecutors have 14 days to decide, “We are satisfied with the fact that he will be serving some time…”

“It’s not only about vengeance, but it is about making sure that there is a fair and just process.”

The judge had a wide range of discretion under South African law.  There is no mandatory minimum sentence for culpable homicide, which is comparable to the U.S. charge of manslaughter.  Pistorius did face a maximum of 15 years in prison, but could have receive a suspended sentence.

“I am of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community,” the judge said, “On the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate either…”

Pistorius, 27, shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, in the morning hours of February 14th of last year.

Pistorius began serving his sentence Tuesday at the Pretoria Central Prison (below), recently renamed the Kgosi Mampuru II Management Area as a first step in a process started by former Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Maphisa-Nqakula aimed at turning correctional facilities into places of hope and reform.

pretoria-central-prison

A controversial and dangerous prison with a bloody history known for its apartheid-era hangings.  The prison still has major issues with gangs and drugs.  It has also had its share of scandals, including the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons’ recent report that South African prison gangs are using HIV infection as punishment, ordering gang members carrying the AIDS virus to rape uncooperative inmates.  It is unclear whether guards are involved.

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