Oscar Pistorius in court for sentencing in girlfriend's killing

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PRETORIA, South Africa — A judge began announcing Oscar Pistorius' sentence Tuesday at the climax of a months-long trial of the disabled Olympic runner for the killing of his girlfriend on Valentine's Day last year.

Judge Thokozile Masipa summarized portions of the case ahead of announcing if Pistorius will go to prison for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in his home.

Masipa has a range of options for Pistorius' punishment after convicting the double-amputee athlete of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, in Steenkamp's 2013 shooting death, but acquitting him of murder. Masipa could issue a suspended sentence and a fine, meaning Pistorius would not go to jail. She could order him to go under house arrest, or she could send him to prison for up to 15 years.

Pistorius' lawyers have argued for a three-year period of correctional supervision, where the runner would spend periods under house arrest and also perform community service. Prosecutors asked the judge to send him to prison for at least 10 years, citing the "horrific" nature of Steenkamp's death after she was shot multiple times.

Masipa said at the start of proceedings Tuesday that the two legal assessors who had assisted her throughout the trial, flanking her on the dais during court proceedings, were not involved in the sentence decision.

"The decision of sentence is mine and mine alone," she said.

The judge said sentencing was about "achieving the right balance" involving a number of factors, including the interests of society. Masipa said sentencing was not a "perfect exercise" and that a variety of sentences might be appropriate in some cases.

Pistorius was asked by the judge to remain seated on a wooden bench in the Pretoria courtroom until she formally announced his sentence. He sat and looked straight ahead at Masipa as she read from her judgment.

Pistorius, 27, was earlier escorted through crowds of onlookers and into the Pretoria courthouse by police officers wearing blue berets. The parents of Steenkamp, the 29-year-old model he shot multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home on Feb. 14, 2013, were also in court to hear the sentence.

The courtroom was packed, reflecting heightened media and public interest ahead of the sentencing. Police officers stood guard in the aisles.

Before proceedings started, Dr. Lore Hartzenberg, a psychologist, held Pistorius' hand and spoke softly to him. Hartzenberg had testified for the defense that Pistorius was a "broken man" after killing his girlfriend and had suffered emotionally and financially — and shouldn't be sent to prison.

A Pistorius supporter laid three white roses near Pistorius.

"I just wanted to bestow a little bit of inner happiness on Oscar," said the supporter, who added that she thought he had lost a lot of self-respect.

Outside the courthouse, a man in orange garb carried chains and a large sign that read: "Are certain offenders more equal than other offenders before the law?"


Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

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