Former athlete Oscar Pistorius was denied parole last week. He is now seeking to overturn that decision and have a new hearing to be considered for early release from prison as soon as possible, his lawyer told The Associated Press.
"I’m confident that common sense will prevail," lawyer Julian Knight said on April. 3rd, claiming that Pistorius was not given credit in his parole application for an extra year and four months he has served in prison after being convicted of murder for the 2013 shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The Olympic runner was denied parole on Friday (Mar.31) because he hasn't served the minimum amount of jail time required, a parole board said. The reasoning 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.
The 36-year-old's legal team is disputing that and the push to have a new hearing appears set to unleash another round of legal wranglings.
It's been a decade since the case captured the world's attention, changing 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 congential 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.
In the early hours of Valentine's Day, February 14, 2013, Pistorius fired a gun through his bedroom bathroom door. Reeva Steenkamp, his partner and a 29-year-old model, was hit multiple times then died.
Oscar Pistorius was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder.
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.
South African law
Serious offenders in South Africa must serve half their sentence before they can be eligible for parole, meaning Pistorius must serve six years, eight 1/2 months — half of 13 years and five 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 considered 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 argued.
"It was an obvious mistake" not to count that time, Knight added.
Knight said he was now applying 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 last week 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 Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model. 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.
June Steenkamp attended Pistorius' parole hearing on Friday (Mar. 31) to argue he should not be released early from prison.
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 behavior of the offender in prison and if their release is likely to pose a danger to the public.