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NPA to argue for maximum sentence for Pistorius

The state will argue in the high court in Pretoria on Monday that Paralympian Oscar Pistorius should get the maximum sentence for culpable homicide, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

Sentencing procedures in the case against Pistorius – convicted of culpable homicide last month – started amidst increased security at the court.

NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube said that the state would argue for a sentence that fitted the severity of the crime. “Our duty is to make sure … we ask for the harshest sentence possible,” he said.

A murder conviction would have almost certainly carried a jail sentence. Culpable homicide can be punished by anything from 15 years in jail to a suspended sentence, or community service.

On September 12, Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius not guilty of murdering Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria townhouse in February 2013, but convicted him of culpable homicide. Pistorius shot Steenkamp through the locked door of the toilet, saying he thought she was an intruder about to emerge and attack him. 

“He was convicted of culpable homicide, somebody lost a life and we think that deserves the harshest sentence,” said Mncube. “We do not decide what is the appropriate sentence … Our responsibility is to argue for a harsh sentence.”

“The minimum sentence act does not apply to culpable homicide, so there is no minimum or maximum sentence. It can vary from a suspended sentence to a fine to imprisonment. Only the judge can decide,” said Mncube.

Masipa said that there was no basis for the court to deduce that Pistorius wanted to kill Steenkamp. She said evidence showed that Pistorius acted negligently when he fired into the toilet door, knowing there was someone behind it.

With regard to firearm-related charges, Masipa found Pistorius guilty of firing a Glock pistol belonging to his friend Darren Fresco under a table at Tasha’s restaurant in Johannesburg in January 2013.

However, she found him not guilty of shooting through the open sunroof of a car with his 9mm pistol while driving with Fresco and ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor in Modderfontein on September 30 2012.

‘Shockingly inappropriate’
During a round of cross-examination during the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the mere suggestion that Pistorius be sentenced to three years of correctional supervision by correctional services department social worker Mashaba Joel Maringa was “shocking”.

“To even suggest three years is shockingly inappropriate in this matter,” Nel told Maringa.

Maringa had earlier presented a report for the defence that Pistorius get correctional supervision and 16 hours of community service a month for killing Reeva Steenkamp.

Defending his report, Maringa said correctional supervision was “as harsh as any sentence”.

“We are not saying he should be destroyed,” he added. The sentence should make the offender a “suitable, responsible citizen”.

Divided opinion
At the sentencing hearing, Masipa was expected to hear arguments from prosecution and defence, possibly for as long as a day each as well as psychological and probation experts before making her ruling.  

The decision by Masipa to absolve Pistorius of murder drew criticism from many legal experts and the public in a country infamous for violence, particularly against women.  

The professional criticism centred on the legal notion of intent via dolus eventualis, whereby a person is held responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions. Laymen have pondered the practical consequences of the ruling, in particular what it meant for the legal principle of self-defence.  

Pistorius said the shooting was a tragic mistake, but at the trial, prosecutors presented a written firearms licence test in which he acknowledged that using lethal force against an intruder was only allowed if there was a direct threat to a person’s life.  

With this in mind, as well as the questions over Masipa’s ruling on intent, the state could yet decide to appeal the culpable homicide verdict in pursuit of a murder conviction.  

Under South African law, an appeal cannot be launched until sentencing has been concluded.

Nightclub visit ‘makes sense’
Testifying in court on Monday, Pistorius’s psychologist Lore Hartzenberg said that Pistorius’s visit to a nightclub during his murder trial could make sense.

“It’s not what I would expect, but it falls within the criteria – it could happen,” Hartzenberg testified.

Referring to post traumatic stress disorder – which Pistorius had been diagnosed with – she said that the criteria included irritability and reckless and self-destructive behaviour.

“In a state of hyper-arousal, to get away from the trauma, he would go out to try and get away from his own nightmares and feelings,” she said. – Sapa and Reuters

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