Pretoria: A sobbing Oscar Pistorius on Wednesday hobbled on his stumps across a courtroom to demonstrate his physical vulnerability to a judge who will decide next month how long he goes to prison for murder.
The double-amputee removed his prosthetic limbs at the request of his lawyer Barry Roux who is pleading for leniency, but state prosecutors sought a minimum 15-year jail term for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp.
Wearing shorts, the Paralympic athlete held onto wooden benches for support as he walked unsteadily through the courtroom. He appeared in distress as a cushion was provided for him to rest on.
Pistorius, 29, shot his girlfriend in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013, claiming he mistook her for a burglar when he fired four times through the door of his bedroom toilet.
He was convicted of culpable homicide in 2014 — the equivalent of manslaughter — before the appeal court upgraded his crime to murder earlier this year.
His murder sentence will be handed down on July 6, judge Thokozile Masipa told the High Court in Pretoria after a three-day hearing.
Pistorius’s lawyer Roux tried to stress the effects of the athlete’s disability, saying: “It is three o’clock in the morning, it is dark, he is on his stumps.
“His balance is seriously compromised and… he would not be able to defend himself. He was anxious, he was frightened.
“He believed the person in the toilet was an intruder and (the) deceased was at the time in the bed,” Roux said.
In March, the Supreme Court of Appeal said Pistorius was guilty of murder, irrespective of whoever was behind the door when he opened fire with a pistol he kept under his bed.
Roux urged judge Masipa to “entertain the correct facts and not to be drowned by the many perceptions” that Pistorius had killed Steenkamp deliberately.
“The accused has lost everything. He can never ever resume his career,” said Roux, whose client had both legs amputated below the knee as a child.
“He has paid physically… he has paid financially, he has paid socially. He is paying constantly.”
– No remorse? –
The minimum jail term for murder in South Africa is 15 years, but Pistorius’s sentence may be reduced due to the year he has already spent in prison and mitigating factors, including his disability.
State prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius should be jailed for at least the minimum term, saying the disgraced athlete had failed to show remorse.
“He knew there was someone behind the door,” Nel said.
“Using a lethal weapon, a loaded firearm, the accused fired not one but four shots to the toilet door.
“He failed to provide any acceptable version for his conduct.”
Nel also repeatedly criticised Pistorius for giving a television interview but not giving evidence at the hearing. The interview is due to be broadcast next week.
Earlier Wednesday, Kim Martin, Reeva Steenkamp’s cousin, gave the last state evidence in the hearing.
“I never ever heard him say that ‘I apologise for shooting, murdering Reeva behind that door’,” she told the court.
“We just wanted the truth.”
She added that she was uncertain whether Pistorius and Steenkamp were in a truly loving relationship.
Barry Steenkamp, 73, Reeva’s father, had broken down in court on Tuesday as he said Pistorius must “pay for his crime” of shooting Reeva, 29, a model and law graduate.
Pistorius was released from jail last October to live under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria after serving one year of his five-year sentence for culpable homicide.
He has always denied killing Steenkamp in a rage and, during his seven-month trial in 2014, vomited in the dock as details of his lover’s death were examined in excruciating detail.
The year before he killed Steenkamp, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to race at Olympic level when he appeared at the London 2012 games.