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Oscar Pistorius Begins Five-Year Prison Term, But May Be Out in One

Herman Verwey/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) — Oscar Pistorius was unemotional as he was driven away Tuesday in a police van to begin a five-year prison term for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but the paralympic champion could spend less than a year behind bars.

Pistorius’ demeanor was in contrast to his behavior during much of the trial when he cried, sobbed loudly and vomited in response to testimony about the Valentine’s Day shooting in 2013. He was convicted last month of culpable homicide, the American equivalent of manslaughter.

Judge Thokozile Masipa kept the courtroom in suspense for more than an hour Tuesday before announcing her sentence, declaring that the sentence has to balance issues such as retribution, restorative justice, rehabilitation and the interest of society.

She rejected the defense’s argument that Pistorius should be sentenced to house arrest because of his grief and his disability. He has no legs, but became known worldwide as the Blade Runner for his speed on his running prosthetics.

“I heard witness after witness over-emphasizing the accused’s vulnerability,” the judge said. “Yes, the accused is vulnerable, but he also has excellent coping skills. He really saw himself as disabled [but] worked hard, and became respected worldwide.”

“A noncustodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community. But a long sentence would also not be appropriate, because it would lack mercy,” she said.

Masipa also said Pistorius has had an enormous impact on society.

“He gave his time and money to charities, and changed the public’s perception of disabled people. This cannot be ignored and ought to be put into perspective,” Masipa said.

The judge gave Pistorius a suspended sentence of three years for a weapons charge.

Pistorius, 27, was unemotional as he stood with his hands clasped in front of him while Masipa delivered her sentence. He will be eligible for a sentence conversion after serving one-sixth of his sentence, meaning his sentence could be changed to house arrest after 10 months.

Pistorius was led to the court’s holding cells Tuesday after court adjourned, and later taken to Kgosi Mampuru II Prison in Pretoria in a police van with barred windows.

Prison officials examined Pistorius and decided he would be held in the prison’s hospital wing because his notoriety and disability could put him at risk of attack.

“An assessment of Mr. Pistorius’ disability has been made, in accordance with procedure, and he is being held in the hospital section, as the court was assured last week,” department spokesman Ofentse Morwane said.

Steenkamp’s parents were in court to hear the sentence. Her mother, June Steenkamp, who has been in court for almost every day of the trial, said justice had been done.

Pistorius’ uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said: “Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society.”

Pistorius never denied shooting his model-girlfriend, but said it was a case of mistaken identity. He said he fired four times through a locked bathroom door in the middle of the night because he thought there was an intruder in his house.

The defense has already indicated that it would not appeal the sentence or conviction, while the state has 14 days to indicate whether it will file an appeal.

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