Oscar Pistorius makes new bid for freedom

Jailed Oscar Pistorius makes new bid for freedom as he complains that court is ‘infringing’ on his rights amid ‘confusion’ over sentence length nearly five months after he was denied parole

  • The former Paralympian was jailed for the 2013 murder of girlfriend Steenkamp 
  • He was denied parole earlier this year but argues he’s eligible for early release 

Oscar Pistorius has implored South Africa’s Constitutional Court to address the ‘utter confusion’ surrounding his eligibility for parole after his latest bid for freedom was denied earlier this year.

The former Paralympian, 36, was jailed for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp a decade ago.

He is now seeking to overturn the decision to deny him parole, arguing the time he has spent behind bars already means he is eligible for an early release.

His lawyer, Julian Knight, said in March that Pistorius was not given credit in his parole application for an extra year and four months he has served in prison following Steenkamp’s 2013 murder.

‘It goes without saying that the confusion is to be determined finally as a matter of relative urgency,’ Pistorius stated in papers filed at the apex court earlier this month according to News 24.

‘Every day that I am detained and prohibited from applying for parole in circumstances that I am already eligible for parole and might be successful to obtain parole constitutes an infringement on my fundamental rights,’ he added.

‘I’m confident that common sense will prevail,’ Knight said.

Oscar Pistorius will not be released from prison early, a decade after he killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp

The high profile case gripped the world. South African athlete Pistorius, left, was a celebrated Olympian and Paralympian, while Ms Steenkamp, right, was a successful model and TV star

Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius walks in the courtroom without his prosthetic legs during his resentencing hearing for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend

FILE – Photographers take photos of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius as he appears at a bail hearing for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, Feb 20, 2013

Pistorius was denied parole in March because he hasn’t served the minimum amount of jail time required, a parole board said, a surprise reasoning that prompted criticism of the Department of Corrections for holding the hearing at all if Pistorius wasn’t eligible.

The parole board ruled that he will only be eligible in August 2024.

Pistorius’ legal team is disputing that and the push to have a new hearing appears set to unleash another round of legal wranglings in a case that has captured the world’s attention for a decade and changed direction dramatically as a result of numerous appeals and overturned decisions.

Both of Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition but he went on to become a multiple Paralympic champion sprinter and even competed against the world’s best able-bodied athletes at the 2012 Olympics, running on carbon-fiber blades.

He was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet door in his home.

But that final sentence only came in 2017, three years after his widely-televised murder trial ended and after a series of appeals by prosecutors. 

They successfully overturned an initial conviction comparable to manslaughter, arguing that it was too lenient, and then also had a six-year sentence for murder more than doubled.

Serious offenders in South Africa must serve half their sentence before they can be eligible for parole, meaning Pistorius must serve six years, eight-and-a-half months to be eligible for early release.

The problems have arisen over the 2017 ruling by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal to increase his murder sentence. 

The court said it was sentencing him to 13 years and five months and not the mandatory minimum of 15 years for murder in South Africa because it took into account the one year and seven months he served after the manslaughter conviction between late 2014 and mid-2016.

But the Supreme Court didn’t take into account another year and four months Pistorius served in prison between when he was first sentenced for murder in July 2016 and when the Supreme Court increased his sentence in November 2017, lawyer Knight said.

That extra year and four months makes Pistorius eligible for parole now, the lawyer said.

‘It was an obvious mistake’ not to count that time, Knight said.

Department of Justice and Correctional Services spokesman, Singabakho Nxumalo, addresses the media outside the Atteridgeville Prison in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday March 31, 2023, where a parole hearing for Oscar Pistorius was held

June Steenkamp, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp arrives at the Atteridgeville Prison for the parole hearing of Oscar Pistorius, in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, March 31, 2023

Tania Koen, a lawyer representing the parents of Reeva Steenkamp, speaks to the press, outside the Atteridgeville Prison, ahead of a parole hearing for Oscar Pistorius, in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday, March 31, 2023

Knight said that Pistorius would apply for the Supreme Court to clarify its judgment relating to when Pistorius’ murder sentence should have started and that would likely take around a month. It was unclear how long it would take to get a new parole hearing, he said.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the confusion surrounding Pistorius’ parole eligibility, with spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo saying the parole board which ruled Pistorius was ineligible was an independent body that the department had no control over.

The parole board said that it was guided by the Supreme Court decision when denying Pistorius’ parole application.

Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, opposed Pistorius’ parole for a different reason. They say he should not be considered to be rehabilitated unless he comes clean over the circumstances of their daughter’s killing 10 years ago.

Pistorius killed the 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 by firing four shots through a door and into a tiny toilet cubicle where she was, hitting her multiple times.

He has always claimed that he killed her by mistake with his licensed 9 mm pistol, believing she was a dangerous intruder. He said he didn’t realize that she had gotten out of bed and gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Steenkamp’s parents say they believe Pistorius killed their daughter intentionally after a late-night argument and is still lying.

Even if Pistorius is granted a new parole hearing, it is not guaranteed he will be released.

A parole board takes several factors into account, including the seriousness of the crime, submissions from a victim’s relatives, the behaviour of the offender in prison and if their release is likely to pose a danger to the public.

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