When the judge sentenced Oscar Pistorius to five years in jail for killing his girlfriend, his reaction was muted. The response elsewhere in South Africa was not. “Five years for murder?” screeched one angry caller to a local radio talkshow. Twitter lit up with angry condemnations of the judge, some commentators going so far as to suggest that all murderers would be so lucky to have her presiding over their case.
After all the drama of a trial that evoked Hollywood theatrics and a blockbuster viewership over the course of its seven-month-run, Judge Thokozile Masipa finally delivered her sentence Tuesday morning in the courtroom in Pretoria, condemning Pistorius to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp in what he described as a tragic mistake. Pistorius wiped his eyes upon hearing his sentence and reached for the hands of family members gathered behind him.
Pistorius, 27, killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, shooting her four times through a closed bathroom door in his home. He testified that he had mistaken her for a nighttime intruder. Immediately following his sentencing he was escorted out of the packed court, down a flight of stairs and into the court’s detention center to await transport to the prison.
On Sept. 12 Masipa convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, a crime similar to manslaughter, but acquitted him of murder at the conclusion of a trial that had become an international spectacle. Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed the “Bladerunner” for his athletic prowess on blade-shaped prosthetic limbs, alternately wept, vomited and collapsed at various points of the trial as the prosecutor presented graphic evidence taken from the scene of the crime and asked Pistorius to recount, in agonizing detail, the events of the night his girlfriend was shot. The prosecution accused Pistorius of murdering Steenkamp in a fit of rage.
In sentencing Pistorius to five years imprisonment, Masipa split the difference between the prosecution’s argument for 10 years and the defense’s case that any jail term would be an unjust punishment for a double-amputee in a violent prison system where Pistorius could be subjected to abuse because of his disability. His lawyers had argued for a three-year probation period of house arrest and community service.
The Steenkamp family appeared to be satisfied, with family lawyer Dup De Bruyn saying that it was “the right sentence,” and that “justice was served,” according to Reuters, suggesting that an appeal is unlikely. Public reaction has been much more heated. Radio talk shows were inundated with angry callers lambasting the judge. “Lady justice just had her legs amputated,” shouted one irate caller. Another cursed Masipa on air, prompting a flurry of Twitter comments over the inappropriateness of denigrating a judge, no matter the reason.
It is likely that Pistorius will be paroled after serving at least one sixth of his sentence — 10 months — according to legal analysts, prompting sarcasm from one math-impaired Twitter commentator: “Three women are killed by their partners every day in [South Africa]. I guess an 8-month sentence will help fight this,” tweeted@ justicemalala.
Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee, which has awarded Pistorius six medals throughout his career, says that he will be banned from competing for five years, even if he is paroled early. Given the high profile nature of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, it was a given that no matter the sentence, people would be angry. Twitter commentator @ZuBeFly summed it up best: “Only way I’d feel 100% satisfied is if any type of sentence the judge passed would bring Reeva back. No winners here either way.”