Both sides presented their closing arguments on Friday at sentencing proceedings at high court in Pretoria for the paralympian, who was convicted of culpable homicide for the Valentine’s Day 2013 shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Thanking both sides for their “assistance”, Judge Thokozile Masipa scheduled sentencing for Tuesday October 21.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel called for Pistorius to receive a minimum 10-year prison sentence for the killing.
Slapping down claims from the defence that the “broken” athlete had already suffered enough, Nel said “the minimum that society will be happy with is 10 years’ imprisonment.”
If Pistorius had acted like a reasonable person, Steenkamp would still be alive, he said.
If he had asked Steenkamp when he heard a noise from his bathroom, “did you hear something?”, or if he had established whether she had heard him before went to the bathroom, gun in hand, she would still be alive.
“If he wasn’t negligent, or over-hasty, she would still be alive,” Nel said.
Nel previously accused Pistorius of trying to influence his sentence by giving money to Steenkamp’s parents, and questioned why an offer was made between judgment and sentencing proceedings.
“If I heard that after this case was finalised Mr Pistorius donated money … it would be different,” he said.
It emerged in court this week that Pistorius offered Barry and June Steenkamp R375 000 and made monthly payments of R6 000 between March 2013 and September this year. June Steenkamp had rejected the lump sum offered as “blood money”, said Nel, and would pay back the R6 000-a-month payments.
Using disability as an excuse
Nel argued Pistorius had tried to use his disability as an excuse for not going to prison. “I find it disturbing that a man with a disability, that competed with able-body athletes would now shamelessly use this as an argument,” he said.
Nel said social worker and probation officer Annette Vergeer had testified for the defence that prison facilities could not cater for Pistorius’s disability because of slippery floors and no shower railings – yet the shower at the athlete’s home had no railings.
Nel said Steenkamp’s cousin Kim Martin’s testimony had painted a picture of a family that still could not cope with the loss of a daughter.
“They will never be able to cope,” continued Nel, who said Martin reflected the voice of society. “Every other mother who heard her evidence felt the pain, I felt the pain.”
Arguing he should be kept out of prison, defence lawyer Barry Roux said he had been wrongly labelled in the media as a cold-blooded murderer.
“Let people understand that the initial understanding of a cold-blooded murder was not correct,” said Roux. “We have a vulnerable person that used excessive force … He never ever entertained the thought that the deceased was in the toilet … he thought she was in the bedroom.”
He said he understood from evidence given by acting national commissioner of correctional services Zach Modise that if Pistorius was sent to jail, he would go into the hospital section.
“It can never be a suitable punishment by locking a person up in hospital. Is there really a dominating factor to lock him up?” he asked.
The pain caused by the death of Steenkamp at his hands was far worse than any punishment for the athlete, Roux said.
“Of course when you caused the death [of a loved one] by negligence … there is the grief of the loss, there is something far worse. There is that excruciating pain that you caused that death,” he said.
He said Pistorius disclosed his version in his bail application because he wanted to tell his story early on and not later so people would think he made up a story.
His payments to the Steenkamps were to show he wanted to do more to make up for his crime, Roux said.
Pistorius had lost everything as a result of the crime and was now broke, revealed Roux.”He was on the rise. He’s lost his immovable property. He’s lost his moveable property. He’s lost his sponsors. It’s a person that’s down and out. He’s broke.”
He said Pistorius acted negligently when he shot four shots into the door but that his frame of mind should be taken into account because it was a “compromised person” acting.
Roux said that the spirit of Ubuntu should be taken into account when sentencing the athlethe. The basic principle of Ubuntu was to do something good in society, coupled with an apology, to pay back society and the victim.
The test for sentencing should be what is in the interest of society, Roux said.
Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for killing Steenkamp in his Pretoria townhouse, and even though he was on trial for premeditated murder, the court found him not guilty on this charge.
Pistorius shot Steenkamp through the locked door of the toilet, apparently thinking she was an intruder about to emerge and attack him. She was hit in the hip, arm, and head.
Pistorius was found guilty of firing a pistol under a table at Tasha’s restaurant in Johannesburg in January 2013. He was found not guilty of shooting through the open sunroof of a car in Modderfontein on September 30 2012, and of illegal possession of ammunition.
In South African law, culpable homicide is considered to be the killing of a human being through negligence, as opposed to intention.
Sentencing options are broad, ranging from being fined, to receiving a suspended sentence or being placed under correctional supervision such as house arrest.
Imprisonment is not mandatory but jail time of up to 15 years can be stipulated in the sentence. – Sapa, Staff reporter