PRETORIA — Former Paralympic gold medalist Oscar Pistorius arrived in a South African court on Monday in a sentence hearing for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the final chapter of a marathon trial over the fatal 2013 Valentine’s Day shooting.
The double amputee athlete known as “Blade Runner” arrived in the Pretoria court in a dark suit and tie flanked by a large police escort, his relatives sitting on one side of the court, the family of Steenkamp on the other.
Murder in South Africa carries a minimum sentence of 15 years, but judges can use their discretion to hand down shorter jail terms.
Jonathan Scholtz, a clinical psychologist testifying for the defense, said Pistorius was not able to testify in his own defense due to his mental state, adding the was suffering anxiety and depression following his dramatic fall from grace.
The defense appears to be pushing for Pistorius to avoid more jail time and to be hospitalized instead.
Scholtz said in his testimony that Pistorius was still on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and that he “takes some comfort” in the knowledge that Steenkamp is with God.
He said that Pistorius, a known gun collector, never wanted to touch or handle a firearm again and that he had sold all his weapons.
A court had initially sentenced Pistorius to culpable homicide, but the Supreme Court in December handed him the more serious verdict of murder.
The sentencing hearing will likely last all week.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Remind me what this is all about?
In case somehow you missed the whole saga, Pistorius is a South African athlete who overcame extreme odds as a double amputee to compete in the 2012 London Olympics on his signature carbon-fiber blades (hence his nickname, “Blade Runner”). But on Valentine’s Day 2013, he shot and killed his up-and-coming model girlfriend, Steenkamp. He said he thought she was an intruder.
But hasn’t he been sentenced already?
Yes, after a nearly 50-day trial stretched over seven months, Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide (much like manslaughter) in September 2014. Judge Thokozile Masipa said he had acted negligently when he shot Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door, but that he didn’t do it intentionally. The Supreme Court of Appeal later changed that conviction to murder.
Why did they change the verdict?
Simplifying here, but the Supreme Court of Appeal judged that the identity of whoever was behind the bathroom door was irrelevant and that Pistorius should have foreseen that his action would kill that person. But he went ahead anyway. The key legal principle is known as dolus eventualis.
Is he in prison?
No, Pistorius is at his uncle’s mansion under house arrest. Pistorius spent about a year in a private cell in the hospital wing of a maximum-security prison. He should have gotten out after 10 months, or a sixth of his sentence, but a South African minister intervened. He could be going straight back to the cell after the sentencing hearing.
What to look out for at sentencing part 2
A defense source told CNN that Pistorius is a “broken man,” and they would have put him on the stand to defend himself, but he is psychologically incapable of it (we will have to wait and see if that turns out to be the case). It will be the first time the public gets a good look at Pistorius since sentencing part one. The defense will likely focus on the media coverage and public treatment of Pistorius as one of their arguments.
On the prosecution side, we may see a family member or close friend of Steenkamp brought as a witness in what could be a harrowing testimony.
What sort of time will Pistorius do?
The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years, but the defense will argue the judge has some discretion to make the jail time less and include time already served. Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, is unlikely to go for the lower end of the sentencing spectrum. And the same judge who made the wrong legal call, according to the Supreme Court of Appeal, will be giving the sentencing judgment.
Again, same characters, different play.