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S.Africa's Pistorius up for parole in girlfriend's murder

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South Africa

South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius might be released from prison this week, a decade after he killed his girlfriend in a crime that gripped the world.

A parole board is to decide whether Pistorius should be let out early, after a hearing in Pretoria on Friday.

"The board must determine whether the purpose of imprisonment has been served," said Department of Correctional Services' spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo.

Pistorius, who is now 36, shot dead Reeva Steenkamp, a model, in the early hours of Valentine's Day in 2013, when he fired four times through the bathroom door of his ultra-secure Pretoria house.

He pleaded not guilty and denied that he killed Steenkamp in a rage, saying he mistook her for a burglar.

Known worldwide as the "Blade Runner" because of his carbon-fibre prosthetics, he was sentenced to 13 years behind bars.

Offenders in South Africa are automatically eligible for parole consideration after serving half of their sentence.

Pistorius has served more than half, having started his term in 2014.

- Decision time -

As part of his rehabilitation, Pistorius met Steenkamp's parents June and Barry last year, in a process authorities said aims to ensure inmates "acknowledge the harm they have caused to their victims and the society at large".

Reeva's mother June will attend the hearing to "make representations to the parole board" which will include both parents' victim impact statements, said Tania Koen, a lawyer representing the Steenkamps.

June's husband Barry is unable to travel due to ill health, Koen added.

Koen said she was not at liberty to discuss the Steenkamps' position on a possible release of their daughter's killer.

"They are going to make their submissions. And then obviously, the law will take its course," she said.

The board, normally made up of correctional services and community members, will consider whether an inmate has been rehabilitated or still poses a danger to society, said Kelly Phelps, a law professor at the University of Cape Town.

This will take into account the seriousness of the offence as well as Pistorius' behaviour behind bars, including whether he attended educational and life skills programs.

- Possible conditions -

Release on parole usually comes with some conditions, such as monitoring from authorities and duty to report to a community correction centre.

"It's very common to have things like alcohol restrictions, restrictions on your ability to own firearms... and to require participation in counselling," said Phelps.

Day parole, where the inmate returns to prison at night, and community service are also on the cards, said Nxumalo of the correctional services.

A year before killing Steenkamp, Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at the Olympics at the London 2012 games.

He then was a sporting icon admired worldwide and courted by sponsors.

But his achievements came crashing down after the killing, with his character and past closely scrutinised in a trial that made headlines around the world.

He was initially sentenced to six years in jail but the term was later lengthened to 13 after the state appealed that it was unduly lenient.

Parole decisions are usually known the same day of the hearing or a day later, but Nxumalo hinted that in Pistorius's case "the decision may not be taken on the same".

If denied, the offender has the right to approach the courts for review.


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