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Oscar Pistorius released on bail following murder conviction (+video)

A judge on Tuesday set an April sentencing date and granted Pistorius bail, five days after an appeals court convicted the double-amputee Olympian of murdering his girlfriend.

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    Oscar Pistorius (2nd r.) leaves the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa after his bail hearing, December 8, 2015.
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A judge on Tuesday let Oscar Pistorius remain under house arrest at his uncle's mansion and set an April sentencing date, five days after an appeals court convicted the double-amputee Olympian of murdering his girlfriend.

In the meantime, Pistorius' legal team plans to appeal his murder conviction in South Africa's highest court, the Constitutional Court, defense lawyer Barry Roux said.

In convicting Pistorius on Thursday of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, the Supreme Court of Appeal threw out a lower court's lesser manslaughter conviction. The appeals court said Pistorius should be sentenced by the lower court.

Judge Aubrey Ledwaba of that court, the North Gauteng High Court, set April 18 for the sentencing and granted Pistorius bail of the equivalent of $692 in South African currency, extending his house arrest until then. Pistorius will be placed under electronic monitoring and may only leave his uncle's home between 7 a.m. and 12 p.m., the judge said.

Pistorius' bail amount was 100 times higher when he first appeared in court for the 2013 shooting.

Bail is often withdrawn in cases where a conviction is overturned for a harsher verdict, said Manny Witz, a South African legal expert who is not involved in the Pistorius case.

"He's actually very fortunate," Mr. Witz said, referring to Pistorius' continued house arrest. Pistorius' compliance with his previous bail and house arrest conditions may have contributed to the judge's decision, Witz said.

Prosecution spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku, speaking outside court, said the April date would allow the Constitutional Court time to decide whether it would hear Pistorius' appeal. The defense has 15 days to submit appeal papers to the Constitutional Court, Mr. Mfaku said.

Pistorius may not travel further than a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius from his uncle's mansion in a Pretoria suburb, the judge ruled. He must also hand over his passport to the police.

Earlier, the state argued that Pistorius may try to flee, and asked for strict bail conditions but did not say he should be sent back to prison before sentencing.

The former track star's lawyer did not say on what basis he would appeal the murder conviction at the Constitutional Court, South Africa's highest court.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel was doubtful about Pistorius' appeal prospects.

"We're not convinced that the accused has made out a good case and that his application to the Constitutional Court will be successful, but we acknowledge that he has the right to bring such an application," said Mr. Nel.

Pistorius shot Steenkamp through the door of a toilet cubicle in his home early on Valentine's Day 2013. Prosecutors said he killed her after an argument; Pistorius said he killed her by mistake, thinking there was an intruder in the house.

The appeals court said that regardless of who was behind the door, Pistorius should have known someone could be killed if he fired multiple times. Under South African law, a person can be convicted of murder if he or she foresaw the possibility of someone dying through their actions and went ahead anyway.

Pistorius was placed under house arrest in October after serving one year of a 5-year prison sentence for the earlier manslaughter conviction.

Pistorius was dressed in a dark suit on Tuesday, the first time he has appeared in court in over a year. His demeanor was calm and he spoke softly with his lawyer and others before proceedings began. He even smiled.

A champion athlete before the killing of Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2013, Pistorius had been televised at sporting events and seen in advertisements. In contrast, he has rarely been seen in public while under house arrest.

The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years, though a judge can reduce that sentence for what the law describes as exceptional circumstances.

Public opinion in South Africa has sometimes taken the view that Pistorius was getting lenient treatment during the long saga of his trial because of his wealth and fame. The appeals court decision to convict him of murder, as well as reports that he has spent much of his fortune on legal bills, have helped to diminish perceptions that he was somehow above the law.

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Associated Press writer Lynsey Chutel contributed to this report from Johannesburg.

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