TIME South Africa

Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Herman Verwey—Getty Images Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.

The six-time Paralympic medal-winning athlete is sentenced to five years in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, eliciting charges of injustice in his native South Africa

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.”

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Guilty of Culpable Homicide for Shooting Girlfriend

Verdict will be followed by sentencing hearing, and both sides retain the right to appeal the decision

A South African judge found athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty on Friday of culpable homicide in the killing of his girlfriend, one day after being acquitted of a murder charge.

Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the verdict in Pretoria after a six-month-long trial and extended the former Olympian’s bail until the start of his sentencing hearing on Oct. 13, the Associated Press reports. Culpable homicide, or negligent killing, with a firearm typically carries a five-year prison sentence in South Africa, the AP adds, but the judge can decide on a range of measures from a suspended sentence and a fine to up to 15 years in prison. Both Pistorius and the prosecution have the right to appeal the decision.

He was also convicted on one of three unrelated firearm charges.

Pistorius became the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics two years ago in London, assuming icon status among disabled athletes. He was charged with premeditated murder after the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, 29, on Feb. 14, 2013, but declared not guilty of that charge on Thursday. Pistorius built his defense on the claim he mistook her for an early morning intruder, whereas the prosecution argued that he shot her in rage following an argument.


TIME South Africa

Judge in Oscar Pistorius Trial Rules Out Murder

Judge may still rule Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide

The judge in the trial of Oscar Pistorius ruled on Thursday that the South African runner was not guilty of murder but delayed handing down a formal verdict, which may still hold him guilty of culpable homicide, likely until Friday.

The verdict will mark the beginning of the end of a globally publicized, six-month-long trial of the feted athlete, who in 2012 became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Pistorius, 27, was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Feb. 14, 2013, after shooting her four times through a bathroom door at his home in Pretoria. He claimed to mistake Steenkamp for a possible intruder, the Associated Press reports, but chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius intended to injure her after the two had quarreled.

In the first day of her verdict reading, Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder. The judge admitted she had doubts about several witness accounts, including those who heard a scream or cry thought to be a woman’s. “None of the witnesses had ever heard the accused cry or scream, let alone when he was anxious,” Masipa said, alluding to a chance it could have been Pistorius’ voice.

But, without issuing a formal verdict, she said “culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” according to the AP. “I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and with excessive force.”

Culpable homicide with a firearm normally carries a five-year prison sentence in South Africa, the AP adds, though the number of years can vary. And the final verdict may not mean the end of the saga, as Pistorius and the prosecution both retain the right to appeal the decision.

Pistorius, who frequently caused the court to adjourn throughout the trial in order to compose himself and who Masipa described as a “very poor witness” on Thursday, the AP reports, listened while sitting on a bench, at times quietly weeping. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old but began competing in Paralympic events using prosthetic limbs, earning himself the moniker “blade runner.” He proved successful enough to compete in able-bodied events including the 2012 London Olympics, and became an icon for athletes with disabilities.

Steenkamp was a burgeoning star herself who had appeared on the cover of FHM magazine and was slated to take part in an upcoming reality TV travel show.


TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius: Reeva Steenkamp Died in My Arms

Olympic and Paralympic track star Pistorius arrives ahead of his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
© Siphiwe Sibeko—Reuters Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius arrives ahead of his third day at the witness stand in the court in Pretoria on April 9, 2014.

The South African paralympian on trial for the murder of his girlfriend provides testimony for a third time about the day in February 2013 when he shot Steenkamp, claiming he thought she was an intruder and recounting how he 'felt helpless' as she died in his arms

Oscar Pistorius recounted how his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, died in his arms with her blood soaking him when he took the witness stand for the third day Wednesday.

The South African athlete, who is on trial accused of murdering his model girlfriend, described how he shot her through the bathroom door of his house on Valentine’s Day last year, saying he mistook her for an intruder.

On Tuesday the judge adjourned the court when Pistorius became very emotional, weeping and wailing as he described the events leading up to the realization that he had killed his girlfriend.

Pistorius, who will face a 25-year prison sentence if convicted, was more composed Wednesday, but still obviously distressed. His voice was quivering as he recounted the moment he entered the bathroom after breaking the locked door with a cricket bat and saw his girlfriend.

“I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t,” Pistorius said in his televised testimony, which is being followed by viewers worldwide.

He said that he pulled her from the bathroom to the bedroom and put her down “softly on the carpet.”

“I felt helpless. I had my fingers in her mouth to help her breathe,” he said. “I could feel her blood was running down on me.”

He then went back into the bedroom to find his phone and called a neighbor to ask for help, and then he called his gated community’s security office and emergency services. Neighbors, paramedics and police came to the home, but Pistorius said he knew it was too late.

“Reeva had already died while I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew that there was nothing that they could do for her.”

The trial continues.

TIME Africa

Pistorius Breaks Down On Witness Stand

The South African paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year, was overcome with grief on the witness stand during his second day of testimony

Updated 8:56am

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial adjourned the court Tuesday when the Olympic athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend began weeping on the stand as he described her death. “She wasn’t breathing,” he sobbed.

Pistorius removed his prosthetics on the stand as he recalled the moments leading to the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, whom the double-amputee sprinter claims he mistook for a home invader on Feb. 14 of last year.

Pistorius, 27, told the court that after a calm Valentine’s Day evening that included the exchange of gifts, he woke up to noises that he believed came from an intruder. “That was the moment everything changed,” Pistorius said. “I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home.” He said that he told Steenkamp to get down and call the police.

The accused, who had changed from a suit into a T-shirt and shorts, left the witness box on his stumps to show how he went to the bathroom. He said he worried that the invader “could come at me at any time — I didn’t have my legs on.”

After putting his prosthetics back on, Pistorius returned to the stand to describe the seconds leading up to his shooting of Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door. Pistorius said that he screamed for Steenkamp to get on the ground, and when he heard a toilet door slam he knew that someone was in the bathroom. “There was ringing in my ears,” Pistorius said, crying, as he described taking the four shots through the bathroom door. He was unable to continue, and the judge adjourned until the next morning.

Earlier in the trial, Pistorius said he was “besotted” with the 29-year-old model.

“I was very keen on Reeva. If anything, I was more into her sometimes than she was into me,” Pistorius, 27, said during his televised testimony, adding that he fell in love with her instantly. “The first six days we knew each other, we saw each other every day.”

He also said that the couple were discussing “a future with each other,” that they had been “looking at interior design together” and were planning a trip to Brazil in March 2013, the month after her death.

During Tuesday’s testimony, the “Blade Runner” also read and explained the text messages he and Reeva Steenkamp had sent each other after having an argument. Steenkamp wrote that she was “scared” of him sometimes, and the SMSs were submitted as evidence by prosecutors earlier in the trial.

Pistorius, who admitted that the couple had a fiery relationship, is later expected to speak about the night he shot Steenkamp.

Pistorius began his testimony Monday by apologizing to Steenkamp’s family. He went on to describe the “security concerns” his family had during his childhood in South Africa.

“We grew up in a family where my father wasn’t around much so my mother had a pistol. She would often get scared at night so she would call the police — we didn’t stay in the best of suburbs,” the athlete said.

“She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow in a padded leather type of bag,” he said, adding that the family experienced several break-ins during his childhood.

The trial is set to continue until mid-May. If Oscar Pistorius is convicted, he will face a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison.

TIME pistorius trial

Pistorius Trial Delayed as Judge’s Aide Hospitalized

Pistorius arrives ahead of  his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
© Siphiwe Sibeko – Reuters Oscar Pistorius was expected to testify for the first time Friday

Oscar Pistorius, the 27-year-old Paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013, was expected to take the stand on Friday but will wait until the trial reconvenes on April 7

The judge in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has delayed proceedings until April 7, as one of his two accessors is ill in hospital, AP reports.

The athlete, known as “blade runner” because of his trademark prosthetic limbs, was expected to take the stand Friday as his defense lawyers begin their case. The last four weeks have been taken up by the prosecution.

Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last February and faces a 25-year sentence if convicted of her murder. The 27-year-old South African maintains that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home and shot her through the bathroom door by accident.




Guilty or Innocent? Making Sense of Oscar Pistorius’ Retching Reaction

Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Getty Images Pistorius at Pretoria High Court on March 11, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.

What forensic science tells us about such dramatic reactions in court

On Monday, in the most dramatic day of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial, the Olympic sprinter known as Blade Runner simply couldn’t take it any more. As the pathologist presented the results of his autopsy on the body of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who Pistorius shot to death on Valentine’s Day in 2013, the athlete brought his hands over his ears in a child-like attempt to block out what he was hearing, and even vomited as the graphic details of how the Steenkamp was likely killed were laid out.

Were the dramatic reactions a physiological, visceral reaction to the horror of that night – after all, bystanders who witness horrific trauma at car accidents or fires often have similar responses – or were they a calculated attempt to convince the judge, who will decide Pistorius’ fate, of his innocence?

MORE: Oscar Pistorius Tells Court How He Shot Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

“It’s a rather extreme form of reaction to a trauma cue or something that is disturbing,” says Angel Daniels, assistant professor of forensic psychology at Marymount University. “It certainly could be indicative of him being exposed to something that he finds truly upsetting and disgusting.” According to testimony by a neighbor and police at the scene, Pistorius, who says he shot Steenkamp through a bathroom door thinking she was an intruder, realized his mistake and carried Steenkamp’s body out of the bathroom after attempting to revive her. He was covered in her blood and tissue.

It’s also possible that he was malingering; “faking symptoms often tends to be a little more dramatic than one would expect if they were genuine,” says Daniels. “The dramatic nature of his reactions would bring malingering into question for most psychologists.”

Not surprisingly, there isn’t much data on such dramatic outbursts by defendants in the courtroom. Testimony by pathologists is often graphic, and frequently families of victims leave the room in order to avoid the trauma of seeing their loved one in autopsy photos or hearing about their possible last breaths. But data on defendants isn’t as robust – or revealing.

MORE: From The TIME Files: A 2007 Talk With Oscar Pistorius

“That type of behavior could mean he is still grieving the loss of his loved one,” says Michael Fogel, associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “It could also mean perhaps he has a sense of guilt. Or it could mean fear, or stress. Reactions to any of these can produce that type of physiological response.”

The only way to find clues about what drove Pistorius to respond that way, he says, is to study his past reactions to similarly traumatic events. People who aren’t used to seeing graphic images, for example, may retch upon seeing blood and death. Exploring how Pistorius historically responded to grief could shed some light on why he reacted so dramatically in court. “It’s possible that that type of grieving is something that is consistent with who he is,” says Fogel.

MORE: How Oscar Pistorius Went From Track Star To Accused Murderer

Daniels also notes that grieving is culturally shaped, and that the crying, retching, and attempts to block out the testimony may seem extreme and even “cartoonish” to Americans, but be perfectly acceptable in other societies where wailing and external expressions of emotions are more common.

There’s also another possibility – that seeing and hearing the autopsy results made Steenkamp’s death real in a way that was particularly difficult for Pistorius. Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that athletes who become celebrities like Pistorius develop an ego that may distort their sense of reality. “Athletes are treated differently – by their parents, their coaches, their friends,” he says. “That inflates their sense of entitlement. So he may be feeling a lot of terror. He could just be terrified about what happened, that his life changed in a matter of seconds. Some people use denial as a defense mechanism, but denial breaks down and reality hits. So when he was confronted with the evidence, those defense mechanisms may have broken down, and that might have been the reaction that we saw.”

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