Oscar Pistorius’s mercy sentence

The shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, 29, by Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, 27, on Valentine’s Day 2013 has been a top news item around the world for several months, but last week Pistorius was sentenced.

Pistorius, who shot his girlfriend four times through the locked door of a toilet stall, believing her to be an intruder, was acquitted of murder and was instead convicted of culpable homicide – manslaughter.  Judge Thokozile Masipa, who handed down the sentence, said the Prosecution had failed to prove murder, and she wanted to show the community that giving Pistorius a short sentence would be more merciful. Pistorius received a sentence of five years, but could serve as little as 10 months in prison. His three-year sentence for an unrelated firearm charge was suspended.

The Prosecution, however, is set to appeal the verdict, claiming that Judge Masipa overlooked an important element of the South African law when she handed down the merciful culpable homicide sentence. National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Mncube said on Twitter that, “NPA will be appealing both the conviction and sentence” of Pistorius.

Pistorius had been charged by the prosecution of pre-meditated murder but was acquitted of this and given the lesser charge of common-law murder or dolus eventualis. In South African law this applies when the accused understands they might kill someone but still go ahead with their course of action.

The Prosecution claimed the judge made an error in her interpretation of the legal concept of dolus eventualis, which says a person is accountable for the likely consequences of their actions.

This appeal is supported by The African National Congress’ Women’s League, which is at the forefront of political efforts to tackle violence against South African women.

Pistorius’ family have said that he will not appeal.

Read more at Daily Life.

Opinion: No more mercy

Prosecutors failed to prove murder after Pistorius claimed he had fired his gun thinking an intruder was hiding behind the toilet door. It was a defence which rang true with many people living in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.

But it wasn’t an intruder. It was his girlfriend, who he claimed to have checked on before getting out of bed to confront the ‘intruder’.

Reeva Steenkamp’s mother claimed Oscar Pistorius was “trigger-happy”, “jealous” and “combustible” and would have killed someone eventually.

Pistorius, it was revealed, had a history of gun violence, letting off rounds into the sky from his car, and once, accidently firing and almost hitting a friend at a restaurant. He had a large gun collection, and official records from the South African Police Service’s National Firearms Center show that he had applied for licenses for six more guns just three weeks before the shooting death.

Now imagine if it had been Steenkamp who was the gun-toting, firearm collecting, “combustible” woman. Imagine if she had leapt up in the middle of the night upon hearing a noise, grabbed her nine millimetre handgun and shot Pistorius through the locked bathroom door. Imagine if the model and law graduate had shot her world-famous, rich and successful Paralympian boyfriend to death. Imagine it was she who had stood, calm and steely-eyed, on the dock receiving her sentence. After we’d known how hazardous she had been, how careless with guns and how violent a woman she proved herself to be on that fateful night, wouldn’t we agree she was crazy and needed to be locked away?

This desire for Judge Masipa to show mercy to Pistorius might come from a cultural view point that I don’t see. What I do see is a lot of successful, influential men committing horrendous crimes against women, and being let off with minimal punishment.

Think American singer Chris Brown’s brutual bashing of pop star Rhianna. In 2009 the pop star told police that Brown had wrapped his hands around her neck and screamed, “I’m going to kill you”, before she passed out. Brown struck a plea deal with the Los Angeles Superior Court and received 180 days of community labour work, a year of domestic-abuse counselling and five years’ probation.

Charles Saatchi, former husband of domestic goddess, Nigella Lawson, was seen grabbing and squeezing her throat at a restaurant in 2013, sparking a horrendous story of domestic abuse, violence and drugs. In the court room Lawson chillingly described the acts of “intimate terrorism” she received at the hands of the British art collector. Saatchi claimed he grabbed Lawson’s throat because he was trying “to make her focus”. He admitted to the assault and accepted a ‘caution’.

Why should these men receive leniency in the eyes of the law and continue to be favoured with public attention? Chris Brown still sells records. Charles Saatchi is still recognised as being a powerful art dealer. Why should the South African community see Pistorius receive leniency when he never showed mercy for Steenkamp, trapped behind the toilet door? Why should he understand mercy when the Steenkamp family never will again, suffering every day from the loss of their Reeva?

To me, all this merciful sentencing shows is these men are dealt with in the swiftest way possible, having the least effect on their freedom. It says to me that it is the women and their families who are most devastated by these men’s horrific actions, who are left to manage the repercussions.

What do you think? Is the Pistorius sentencing fair? Are successful men in the public eye often given leeway where women are not? Is this a gender issue, a celebrity issue, or both?