A South African judge sentenced former Olympic and Paralymic sprinter Oscar Pistorius to a maximum of five years in prison Tuesday for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend last February.
Judge Thokozile Masipa also gave the athlete once known as “The Blade Runner” a three-year suspended sentence on a firearms charge. She had found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, but had acquitted him of the more serious crime of murder.
Masipa based the sentence on what she called the “gross negligence” of Pistorius, who shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home early on the morning of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius had testified that the shooting was an accident because he mistook his girlfriend for a nighttime intruder.
Pistorius stood as the judge announced his sentence, and then left the courtroom and walked down a flight of stairs leading to holding cells. His sentence starts immediately.
Legal experts said the section Judge Masipa quoted when she handed down Pistorius’ sentence provides that his prison term be a maximum of five years and the runner could be eligible for house arrest after serving as few as ten months in jail.
Masipa had a range of options for Pistorius’ punishment. She could have issued a suspended sentence and a fine, meaning Pistorius would not have gone to jail. She could also have ordered him to go under house arrest or she could have sent him to prison for up to 15 years.
Pistorius’ lawyers had argued for a three-year period of correctional supervision, where the runner would have been under house arrest. Prosecutors asked the judge to send him to prison for at least 10 years.
Pistorius was escorted through crowds of onlookers and into the Pretoria courthouse by police officers wearing blue berets. The parents of Steenkamp were also in court to hear the sentence.
The courtroom was packed, reflecting heightened media and public interest ahead of the sentencing. Police officers stood guard in the aisles.
Before proceedings started, Dr. Lore Hartzenberg, a psychologist, held Pistorius’ hand and spoke softly to him. Hartzenberg had testified for the defense that Pistorius was a “broken man” after killing his girlfriend and had suffered emotionally and financially.
A Pistorius supporter laid three white roses near Pistorius.
“I just wanted to bestow a little bit of inner happiness on Oscar,” said the supporter, who added that she thought he had lost a lot of self-respect.
Outside the courthouse, a man in orange garb carried chains and a large sign that read: “Are certain offenders more equal than other offenders before the law?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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