Family feels justice has been done as Pistorius found guilty of murder and to be re-sentenced
A RELIEVED Barry Steenkamp, speaking just hours after a dramatic legal reversal in which Oscar Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction was overturned and replaced by a murder conviction, said last night: “I never lost faith in the justice system.
“I always had faith in it – right from the beginning,” Steenkamp said at the Port Elizabeth bar he owns.
“Even after the first judgment, I knew it was not over yet.”
The disgraced Paralympian now faces a possible 15-year prison term for murdering his girlfriend, former Port Elizabeth model Reeva Steenkamp, 29, after the Supreme Court of Appeal’s explosive move in Bloemfontein yesterday.
With a hint of an apology to Judge Thokozile Masipa, who presided over Pistorius’s trial, Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Eric Leach demolished her findings, producing yet another extraordinary twist in the case.
Leach said Masipa had made multiple “errors in law” in her ruling last year that Pistorius could not have foreseen Reeva’s death when he shot four times through his locked toilet door on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
Pistorius must now convince a court that he should serve less than the prescribed 15 years in prison for murder dolus eventualis.
He was referred back to the Pretoria High Court for Masipa to consider a new sentence.
Pistorius killed Steenkamp at the peak of his fame and has since lost his glittering sports career, lucrative contracts and status as a global role model for the disabled.
Last month, he made his first appearance in public since leaving jail, looking gaunt when he reported for community service at a Pretoria police station.
Speaking from the family’s packed Barking Spider pub in Greenbushes on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth last night, an upbeat Steenkamp said: “No, I am not chuffed about the judgment. I am just very pleased that justice has been served. “The truth is now out “We are not worried about what sentence he [Pistorius] will get. We are not thinking about that
“My guess is that the sentencing will take place next year, probably in January.”
The National Prosecuting Authority confirmed that 29-year-old Pistorius, will remain on parole under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria until he is re-sentenced.
Legal experts said it was likely that Pistorius would be brought before the Pretoria court on Monday so that a date for the sentencing could be arranged.
“I wanted respect for my daughter’s life, and that’s what I got today,” Reeva’s mother, June, who was in court, told US television after the unanimous ruling by five appeal judges.
Barry Steenkamp told AFP shortly afterwards: “We are satisfied. I would hope to God that all of this could have been prevented, but seeing that it has been done, let us now all get on with our lives.”
Reeva’s step-sister, Simone Cowburn, hailed the verdict as “fantastic”.
“We are very pleased,” a relaxed Cowburn said at the Greenbushes pub. “Everyone will now know the truth.”
Cowburn said she was also not too concerned about the sentence.
Masipa, in finding Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, had sentenced him to five years in prison under Section 276(1)i of the Criminal Procedure Act, meaning Pistorius served only one-sixth of his sentence with the remainder being spent under house arrest. Reading the unanimous finding yesterday, Leach’s voice was measured and calm, but the decision to throw out Masipa’s lesser culpable homicide verdict and replace it with murder was explosive.
“This case involves a human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions,” Leach said.
“A young man overcomes huge physical disabilities to reach Olympian heights as an athlete; in doing so he becomes an international celebrity; he meets a young woman of great natural beauty and a successful model; romance blossoms; and then‚ ironically on Valentine’s Day‚ all is destroyed when he takes her life.”
Among Leach’s extensive criticisms of Masipa’s fundamental errors, he said that she had ignored key evidence from a ballistics expert.
Leach, with SCA Judge President Lex Mpati, Justice Nonkosi Mhlantla, Judge Steven Majiedt and Judge Elizabeth Baartman agreeing, also said the identity of the person behind the door, whether an intruder or Steenkamp, was irrelevant when considering murder dolus eventualis, a legal term meaning awareness of the likely outcome of an action.
“It is inconceivable that a rational person thought he was entitled to fire at this person with a heavy-duty firearm,” Leach said, describing Pistorius’s testimony as “vacillating and untruthful”.
A senior state advocate in Port Elizabeth said that while a 15-year jail term was a prescribed sentence for a first-time offender like Pistorius, it was likely the time he had already spent behind bars would be taken into account.
The advocate said Pistorius’s lawyers needed to convince Masipa that exceptional and compelling circumstances existed for her to deviate from the 15 years.
Port Elizabeth criminal lawyer Kuban Chetty said while time served was the most compelling of circumstances, other factors, such as Pistorius being a first offender, his age and the possibility of rehabilitation, would also be taken into account.
Most legal experts agreed it was likely Pistorius would now serve between five and 10 years behind bars.
The prosecutor, who does not have permission to speak to the media, said it was important for Masipa to impose a more stringent sentence.
ANC Women’s League Gauteng spokeswoman Jacqui Mofokeng said the organisation would be lobbying for Pistorius to be sentenced to prison for between 15 to 20 years.
“We are happy with the judgment. As the women’s league, we have supported [prosecutor] Gerrie Nel and the National Prosecuting Authority from the start and we believe that finally justice has been served, even more so with this coming during the 16 Days of Activism.
“We want to thank Gerrie Nel and say that our confidence in the justice system has been restored,” she said.
Mofokeng said she had been in “constant communication” with June Steenkamp, whom she said had become like a sister to her.
“June is very excited and when we spoke she said that finally, her daughter can now rest and be at peace.
“We know that Pistorius has already received parole for his five-year sentence but we want to see him getting 15 to 20 years.
“He should not receive parole until he has served at least 10 years and we will be appealing for that.”
A Pistorius family spokesman said: “The legal team will study the finding and we will be guided by them in terms of options going forward.”
Pistorius may make his own appeal to the Constitutional Court.
“There is a very good chance that this might be appealed,” University of Cape Town senior law lecturer Kelly Phelps said.
“It would involve principles like the right to a fair trial [and] the correct ambit and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Appeal.”
But Pistorius’s lawyers have said the sprinter cannot afford further legal battles, having already paid huge bills. – Additional reporting by AFP