Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympic and Olympic athlete, removed the prostheses he uses for walking and running in court on Wednesday in an effort to avoid a heavy jail sentence for killing his girlfriend with four shots from a 9mm handgun fired through a closed toilet door.
Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was 11 months old, removed his prostheses and made his way unsteadily across the courtroom.
Pistorius removes his prostheses while prosecutor calls for athlete to serve at least 15 years for 2013 murder of Reeva Steenkamp
On the third day of a sentencing hearing in the Gauteng high court in Pretoria, Barry Roux, who leads the former athlete’s defence team, said they wanted to show the court that Pistorius was not a “strong, ambitious man winning gold medals”.
“I don’t want to overplay vulnerability … I don’t want to overplay disability … It doesn’t mean because he’s vulnerable that he can do what he likes. But please let’s understand … who is this man that you must sentence?” Roux said.
The state prosecutor Gerry Nel told the trial judge Tholokize Masipa that it was her duty to impose at least the 15 years prescribed as a minimum sentence for murder in South Africa “despite any personal doubts” she might have.
Pistorius was released on bail last year after serving 10 months of a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter in English law. His conviction was subsequently upgraded to murder by the supreme court of appeal. Masipa will now sentence the former athlete for the more serious crime.
Nel said any sentence needed to consider the needs of the community and send a strong message to deter violent crime. South Africa has some of the highest levels of murder in the world.
cannot think of a more excessive use of a firearm than …. firing four shots through that doorway,” said Nel, whose belligerent style has attracted both praise and criticism. “Murder remains the most reprehensible crime … Society demands that appropriate sentences be imposed. We argue for long-term imprisonment.”
Pistorius won global fame and fortune by reaching the semi-finals of the 400m sprint in the London Olympics of 2012 and landing a series of lucrative sponsorship deals with major brands.
The 29-year-old was nicknamed the “blade runner”, a reference to the carbon fibre prosthetics he used to compete, and hailed as a role model for disabled people all over the world. He killed Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, in the early hours of 14 February 2013 at his home in Pretoria.
The subsequent trial showed a darker side to the athlete, revealing a taste for guns and fast cars.
Pistorius remained slumped with his head in his hands through much of Wednesday’s hearings.
The case has gripped South Africa and prompted fierce global interest. Relatives of both Pistorius and Steenkamp have attended the court, sitting within metres of each other.
Both sides have sought to sway Masipa with hours of legal arguments and testimony which have seen moments of intense emotion.
On Tuesday, the father of the victim wept as he told the court said that though, with great difficulty, he had forgiven Pistorius, the former athlete should “pay” for what he had done.
In emotional testimony, Barry Steenkamp described how his family had been devastated by the murder.