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Pistorius moves to house arrest, but legal challenge looms

20 October 2015, 20:33

Johannesburg - Oscar Pistorius spent Tuesday at his uncle's mansion after being moved from jail to house arrest, but the former track star faces another legal challenge next month when prosecutors argue at an appeals court that he should go back to prison for much longer for killing his girlfriend.

Pistorius, a double-amputee who inspired millions when he ran against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, does not have to attend the Nov. 3 hearing at the Supreme Court of Appeal in the South African city of Bloemfontein. He is likely to wait for the outcome in comfortable confinement at the Pretoria home of Arnold Pistorius, a wealthy businessman who watched from the gallery during his nephew's trial for fatally shooting his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

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Pistorius, who was acquitted of murder but convicted of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, had spent a year of his five-year sentence in a downtown Pretoria prison where South Africa's former white rulers once executed the condemned during apartheid. He is now staying in a red-bricked home with landscaped lawns and a large, cross-shaped swimming pool in Waterkloof, an affluent suburb with tree-lined streets where some foreign ambassadors live.

"Oscar is here, and Oscar is at home with the family," Anneliese Burgess, the spokeswoman for the Pistorius family, told reporters outside the home. She said the family was happy.

The media have yet to catch a glimpse of Pistorius, who was ferried from the prison to the house under cover of darkness on Monday night, a day earlier than expected. His discreet transfer to house arrest avoided the kind of jostling among media, onlookers, police and the Pistorius entourage often seen outside the courthouse during the murder trial, which generated intense global interest.

Pistorius left the jail at 7:30 p.m., the Department of Corrections said.

Under South African law, an offender sentenced to five years or less in jail can be released to correctional supervision after serving one-sixth of the term. That's 10 months in Pistorius' case.

Pistorius' sentence "has not been shortened or reduced," said Burgess, the spokeswoman, an apparent response to criticism that the 28-year-old former star had been treated leniently. Some people have said on social media that the sentence was too light, questioning whether the runner got better treatment because he could afford a strong legal team.

"He now enters the next phase of his sentence," Burgess said. "He will serve this under the strict conditions that govern correctional supervision."

Authorities have said conditions for the house arrest include continued psychotherapy for Pistorius and a ban on any handling of firearms.

Typically, offenders under correctional supervision can only leave their home for specific reasons, such as to attend church or do grocery shopping. They generally cannot leave the house at night. Pistorius will not have to wear an electronic tagging device.

If the appeals court rejects the manslaughter conviction and instead rules that Pistorius is guilty of murder, he faces going back to prison for 15 years, the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa. The country abolished the death penalty soon after the end of apartheid and its first all-race elections. The appeals court has not said when it will rule in the Pistorius case.

Pistorius has maintained that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder in his Pretoria home and killed her by mistake in the shooting on Valentine's Day 2013. Prosecutors said the two had argued and he shot her intentionally through the door of a bathroom cubicle.

Tania Koen, the lawyer for Steenkamp's parents, said they would be open to a suggestion by South Africa's justice minister that Pistorius meet them. The proper time would be after Pistorius' case is heard by the appeals court, and Pistorius "would have to initiate it," Koen said.

On the day she was killed by Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp was due to give a speech on domestic abuse at a school. Her mother, June, will on Wednesday speak about the same issue at a school in the Steenkamps' hometown of Port Elizabeth, Koen said. South Africa has one of the world's highest murder rates and domestic abuse is also a common problem.

Pistorius, known as "Blade Runner" for his carbon-fiber running blades, was the first amputee runner to compete at the Olympic games. It is unclear whether he would want to resume training, and whether authorities would allow it.

- AP


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