Killer hands over designer watch to family for safekeeping before being led away to start his sentence, as a cousin of victim protests: 'Reeva was worth more than that'
TWO years ago Oscar Pistorius climbed the steps to the podium to accept his gold medal at the London Paralympic Games. Yesterday (Tuesday) he was escorted down the 23 steps to the cells beneath a South African court at the end of his dramatic seven-month trial.
Pistorius, who shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after mistaking her for a burglar, was sentenced to five years in prison for the killing, but could be out in 10 months.
Judge Thokozile Masipa told a red-eyed Pistorius, 27, clutching three white roses handed to him by a supporter as he entered the packed courtroom, that the shooting had "bordered" on murder and only jail time would be appropriate.
But she sentenced him under a South African law that allows an offender to serve a short period and then be considered for "correctional supervision" under house arrest.
The decision means Pistorius could be released to serve the rest of his sentence at his uncle's opulent Pretoria mansion within a year.
Both Pistorius and Steenkamp families broadly welcomed the decision, but Kim Martin, the victim's cousin, protested: "Reeva's life was worth more than that."
"Outside court, June Steenkamp said she was "satisfied" with the result, although she added: "There's no closure without Reeva unless you can magic her back."
Steenkamp's uncle Mike said he was confident Pistorius would have to live with what he had done. "He is now a killer and you cannot lose that identity, it will be with him for ever." he said. "It's something that will never go away.
"I think even if it's 10 months, he will be thinking about things and he will know somewhere along the line that he did something wrong."
After the judge announced her decision the "Blade Runner" athlete clutched the hands of his uncle Arnold and aunt Lois and handed them his designer watch for safekeeping.
Arnold Pistorius confirmed the family would not appeal against the verdict or sentence.
He lambasted prosecutors for the "collateral damage" they had caused by trying to convict Pistorius of premeditated murder. "One of the most distressing parts for me of this trial is how the truth became totally irrelevant as the state attempted to make the premeditated murder charge stick," he said.
He said his nephew would seek to make the most of his incarceration. "Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society. As a family we are ready to support and guide him as he serves his sentence."
Pistorius told the CNN journalist Robyn Curnow days ago that he was "not afraid of going to prison".
"He said to me he hoped to contribute in prison, perhaps help inmates with literacy classes or a gym club," she wrote on Twitter. "He seemed accepting."
Pistorius's brother Carl, who had said that he and his sister Aimee would "stand together" with Oscar regardless of the sentence, tweeted a photograph of him and his brother playing as children and wrote: "Together in Christ we are strong."
Pistorius was sentenced to five years for the culpable homicide, or manslaughter, of Miss Steenkamp, 29, and three years suspended for accidentally firing a gun in a crowded restaurant.
The state had argued that he intended to kill her when he fired four shots at the locked lavatory door of his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year following a row.
But the judge controversially rejected that version, saying that although Pistorius had been "grossly negligent" in his actions, prosecutors had not met the burden of proof for murder.
She told the courtroom that she did not subscribe to the "eye for an eye" mentality. "The interests of society demand that those who commit crimes be punished and in deserving cases that they be punished severely," she said.
"What may appear to be justice to the uninformed general public however may not necessarily be justice. The public may not know the difference between punishment and vengeance."
Turning to the victim's parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, in the public gallery, she said: "Nothing I do or say today can change what happened on February 14, 2013. Hopefully this shall provide some sort of closure for the family and for all concerned so that they can move on with their lives."
Her comments brought down the curtain on a sensational and emotionally fraught trial, which was followed around the world and lasted seven months - twice the length of Pistorius's nascent relationship with the girlfriend he killed.
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has 14 days to consider whether it will appeal against the judge's decision to reject the murder charge.
Nathi Mncube, an NPA spokesman, said it had been "disappointed" by the judge's verdict but the jail sentence was some "consolation".
Many South Africans and others around the world suggested on Twitter that the athlete had "got away with murder" and questioned the length of the sentence.
"The judge will judge according to the status of the person," said Ephraim Mudau, 45, a local political activist, waiting outside the court to catch a glimpse of Pistorius being taken to prison. "He should have had at least 10 years. He took a life."
Inside, Pistorius's supporters declared themselves "heartbroken". Kayla Nolan said: "I can't say whether it's wrong or it's right but it's a terrible shock."