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South African Olympian gets parole 10 years after killing girlfriend

Oscar Pistorius was at the height of his fame and one of the world’s most admired athletes when he killed model Reeva Steenkamp.
South African Olympian gets parole 10 years after killing girlfriend
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-24 07:00:45-05

Double-amputee Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was granted parole Friday, 10 years after shooting his girlfriend through a toilet door at his home in South Africa in a killing that jolted the world.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said Pistorius would be released from prison on Jan. 5. His parole will come with conditions, including that he not leave the area of Pretoria where he is set to live without permission from authorities. Pistorius will also attend a program to deal with his anger issues, Nxumalo said, and will have to perform community service.

Pistorius' parole conditions will be in place for five years, the Department of Corrections said.

“Parole does not mean the end of the sentence. It is still part of the sentence. It only means the inmate will complete the sentence outside a correctional facility,” Nxumalo said.

Pistorius, who turned 37 this week, has been in jail since late 2014 for the Valentine’s Day 2013 killing of model Reeva Steenkamp, although he was released for a period of house arrest in 2015 while one of the numerous appeals in his case was heard. He was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.

Serious offenders in South Africa must serve at least half of their sentence to be eligible for parole, which Pistorius has done.

Pistorius was at the height of his fame and one of the world’s most admired athletes when he killed Steenkamp. He shot her multiple times in the bathroom of his Pretoria villa in the predawn hours with his licensed 9mm pistol.

Friday's parole hearing was Pistorius' second in the space of eight months. He was wrongly ruled ineligible for early release at a first hearing in March. That was due to an error made by an appeals court over when the sentence officially started.

Pistorius was initially convicted of culpable homicide — a charge comparable to manslaughter — for killing Steenkamp. That conviction was overturned and he was convicted of murder after an appeal by prosecutors. They also appealed against an initial sentence of six years for murder, and Pistorius was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.

Pistorius testified at his murder trial that he killed Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a dangerous intruder hiding in his bathroom in the middle of the night when he fired four times through the door with his licensed 9mm pistol. Prosecutors argued that Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star, had fled to the toilet cubicle during a late-night argument and Pistorius killed her in a rage.

Pistorius was eventually convicted of murder on a legal principle known as dolus eventualis, which means he acted with extreme recklessness and should have known that whoever was behind the door would likely be killed. It's comparable to third-degree murder.

Steenkamp’s father, Barry Steenkamp, died in September. Her mother, June Steenkamp, did not oppose Pistorius’ parole.

Rob Matthews, a South African man whose 21-year-old daughter was murdered in 2004 and who became a Steenkamp family friend, read out a statement from June Steenkamp outside the prison before the hearing in which she said she was not opposing his parole and didn’t attend the hearing because “I simply cannot muster the energy to face him again at this stage.”

Nevertheless, “I do not believe Oscar’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar,” June Steenkamp said in the statement. “In fact, I do not know anybody who does. My dearest child screamed for her life. ... I believe he knew it was Reeva."

While out on parole, Pistorius is expected to live at his uncle's luxurious mansion in a wealthy Pretoria suburb, where he stayed during his murder trial.

Pistorius was initially sent to Pretoria’s central prison, a notorious apartheid-era jail. He was moved to the city’s Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in 2016.

There have been only occasional glimpses of Pistorius’ life behind bars over the past decade. His father has said he has been holding bible classes for fellow prisoners, although there have also been flashes of trouble, including an altercation Pistorius had with another inmate over a prison telephone that left him requiring medical treatment.

Steenkamp's killing happened when Pistorius was at the height of his fame and just months after he had become the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics. He was also a multiple Paralympic sprinting champion and one of sport's most marketable figures, having overcome the amputation of both his legs below the knee as a baby to run on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

At his sensational trial, prosecutors argued there was another side to Pistorius' life that involved guns and angry confrontations with others. Pistorius was also found guilty of a second charge of recklessly firing a gun in a restaurant.


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