Image: South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius is led to a prison van after his sentencing in Pretoria October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
By Joe Brock
PRETORIA (Reuters) – In one of the wealthiest suburbs of South Africa’s capital Pretoria stands a three-storey mansion where Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius will be taken on his release from prison this week.
Pistorius, 29, is expected to wear an electronic tracking tag when he is released on Friday after serving 10 months of a five-year sentence for killing his model and law graduate girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.
The release of Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, is in line with South African sentencing guidelines that say non-dangerous prisoners should spend only one-sixth of a custodial sentence behind bars.
Pistorius is due to serve the rest of his term in “custodial supervision”, a form of house arrest.
He will be mostly confined to the home of his uncle, Arnold, a high-walled manor in the leafy suburb of Waterkloof that features more than a dozen bedrooms, a private gym, outdoor swimming pool and landscaped gardens.
The athlete, nicknamed ‘Blade Runner’ because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he used during his stellar career on the track, will likely be allowed to leave the house to work, carry out community service or to attend important family events.
In a country with one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime and where many still live in poverty, there is limited sympathy for Pistorius.
“It’s more like mansion arrest,” said Christopher, 31, a security guard who works on Arnold’s road but lives in a basic two room flat in a rundown suburb of Johannesburg.
Steenkamp’s parents did not respond to requests for comment. They said at the time of Pistorius’ sentencing that spending 10 months in prison “for taking a life is simply not enough” and it would send out the wrong message to society.
Experts who deal with former prisoners say the public is often unaware of how tough life can be.
APPEAL FOR MURDER
“Many people don’t understand the very serious impact prison can have on your life and the challenges afterwards, no matter where you live,” said Jacques Sibomana, spokesman for NICRO, an organisation helping to re-integrate offenders.
“The social stigma Oscar will face could be very psychologically traumatic. The punishment lives with you.”
Pistorius’ time in Waterkloof could be short-lived if state prosecutors succeed in overturning the verdict. Details of their case were due to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein on Monday.
Pistorius has admitted killing Steenkamp, 29, by firing four shots into the locked door of a toilet cubicle in what he said was the mistaken belief that an intruder was hiding behind it.
Judge Thokozile Masipa said during sentencing that the state had failed to convince her of Pistorius’ intent to kill when he fired.
Prosecutors want the verdict of culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, raised to murder because they argue Pistorius must have known when he fired that the person behind the door could be killed. Many legal experts agree.
“Given he fired four shots through a door when he knew someone was inside, I think there is a good chance the appeal will be successful,” William Booth, a lawyer who has followed the trial closely, told Reuters.
If convicted of murder, Pistorius will likely be given a custodial sentence of at least 15 years. The appeal hearing is due to start in November.
Pistorius was once considered one of the ultimate symbols of triumph over adversity, fighting authorities to become the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
Though he could return to training, Pistorius is unlikely to ever compete at the highest level again given his age and lack of intensive training since Steenkamp’s death, experts say.
(Additional reporting by Lynette Ndabambi; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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