Oscar Pistorius was being portrayed as a “poor victim” ahead of his sentencing for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the chief prosecutor said Tuesday.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel was cross-examining Pistorius’ agent, Peet van Zyl, on the second day of a sentencing hearing in South Africa for the double-amputee Olympic runner who was found guilty last month of culpable homicide by Judge Thokozile Masipa.
The judge has wide latitude when deciding on a sentence. Pistorius, 27, could receive a fine and a suspended jail sentence or as many as 15 years in prison.
Another defence witness, social worker Annette Vergeer, recommended against prison time for Pistorius, saying South African jails are violent and overcrowded and that the athlete would be under particular duress because of his disability and fragile mental state following Steenkamp’s killing. Additionally, Vergeer said, Pistorius has the potential to be a productive member of society again and a sentence of house arrest that includes periods of work at a school for disabled children would be more appropriate.
Prison “will not assist him but will break him as a person,” she said. “The exposure of the accused on his stumps to inmates will have a severe effect on him.”
Agent van Zyl was called to testify by Pistorius’ defence lawyers, who are arguing that Masipa should be lenient on the multiple Paralympic champion, who they say has suffered emotionally and financially after the shooting. Van Zyl testified Monday regarding what he called Pistorius’ extensive charity work before the Feb. 14, 2013 shooting death of Steenkamp and said that Pistorius had now lost all his product endorsements because of the killing.
Cross-examining van Zyl, Nel said “You view Mr. Pistorius as a poor victim of this case.”
Van Zyl denied that.
Nel also questioned Pistorius’ motives for getting involved in charity work, saying it was a smart career move for athletes to lend their names to good causes and that he was obligated to participate in such activities for their sponsors.
“They market themselves by being involved in charity,” Nel said. “It’s merely an advancement of your career to become involved.”
Van Zyl said it could be perceived that way, but added: “I think that a lot of sportsmen really want to make a difference and to contribute.”
Nel challenged van Zyl after he said “maybe there would still have been some opportunities” for Pistorius were it not for alleged inaccuracies in media reporting on the case. Van Zyl said that, since the killing, he had received some invitations asking Pistorius to address audiences and share his life story.
“The legacy that he’s left behind is still relevant today,” he said.
The prosecutor appeared incredulous at van Zyl’s remarks, suggesting Pistorius’ manager was blaming the media and others, including prosecutors, for the predicament of a man who had killed a young woman by firing four hollow-point bullets through a toilet door. Masipa found Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder and of murder for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. He testified he mistook her for an intruder about to attack him and denied prosecution assertions that he shot her during an argument.
Pistorius’ sentencing hearing is expected to last around a week.
Defence lawyers have also called a social worker, who testified that correctional supervision for three years with periods of house arrest would be a suitable sentence for Pistorius. Prosecutors have insisted he should go to prison for killing Steenkamp.
Pistorius in 2012 became the first amputee to run at the Olympics.