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Oct 13, 2014 1:06 PM

How Pistorius' punishment will be decided

The Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) Will Oscar Pistorius serve any prison time for killing Reeva Steenkamp?

Judge Thokozile Masipa began hearing testimony Monday before deciding what sentence the double-amputee Olympic athlete should serve.

Pistorius was acquitted of murder in Steenkamp's shooting death but convicted of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, or killing Steenkamp through negligence. It has a wide range of possible sentences in South Africa, from a fine and no prison time to as much as 15 years in jail.

Here's how the sentencing hearing works:



Judge Masipa will hear testimony from a small number of witnesses called by the defense and then prosecution before deciding on Pistorius' sentence. The defense began presenting witness testimony on Monday, arguing why the judge should be lenient. Prosecutors could call Steenkamp's family members to show that Pistorius should be sent to prison for years because of the suffering he has caused.

The hearing is scheduled to last around a week. Masipa might postpone proceedings after the testimony to deliberate before announcing the sentence.



Pistorius' lawyers cited what they say is his remorse and previous good character as reasons for a lenient sentence. Defense lawyers began by calling a psychologist who has counseled the athlete since he killed Steenkamp. Dr. Lore Hartzenberg testified that Pistorius was a "broken man" wracked with grief following the shooting, and had lost his reputation, his friends and his career. The defense hopes her testimony which focused on what she said was Pistorius' emotional pain following an accidental killing will help persuade Masipa that Pistorius is remorseful, has suffered already and shouldn't be sent to prison because he needs ongoing therapy.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered that Pistorius was "still alive" and Steenkamp wasn't and that should be considered.

"Do you know anything about her (Steenkamp's) dreams, what she wanted to do in life?" Nel asked the psychologist during cross-examination, arguing that the late model's family was also "broken."



Pistorius' work with charities before the Feb. 14, 2013 shooting was listed extensively by his agent, Peet van Zyl, who was also called by the defense. Van Zyl's testimony was designed to paint the Paralympic champion as a generally good person who had no previous criminal record. He also said that Pistorius had lost all his athletics endorsements because of the court case and had already been punished financially.



A social worker from South Africa's department of correctional services was the only one of the three defense witnesses who testified on the first day of the hearing to suggest a sentence. Joel Maringa said three years of "correctional supervision" would be appropriate, where Pistorius would be partly under house arrest and have to do community service, but would also be able to train and attend athletics meets.

Nel fiercely criticized that suggestion, saying it was "shockingly inappropriate" after Pistorius killed someone. The prosecution, which sought a murder conviction, has insisted that Pistorius should go to prison because of the level of negligence he displayed when he fired four hollow-point bullets through a toilet cubicle door in his home and into a small space without checking who was inside.



Masipa's options are wide-ranging: She could order a fine and a suspended prison sentence, meaning the 27-year-old Pistorius spends no time in jail unless he offends again. But she could also sentence him to up to 15 years in prison. In between those two scenarios, Masipa could order he be put under house arrest for a period. Pistorius could apply for parole after serving half of any prison sentence.


Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa.


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