Oscar Pistorius again faces the possibility of a murder conviction after a South African judge said prosecutors may appeal against his conviction for culpable homicide.
The case will go to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which will review the murder trial of the double-amputee Olympian, who fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who convicted Pistorius and sentenced him to five years in jail, acknowledged that chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel had raised legitimate “questions of law” that should be studied by the appeals court.
“This might have a practical effect” on the conviction, Judge Masipa said yesterday as the appeal ruling was announced.
“We note the finding of the court and abide by the ruling,” the Pistorius family said in a statement.
Pistorius could face a minimum of 15 years in prison if the appeals court overturns the culpable homicide conviction and raises it to a murder conviction.
Under his current sentence, Pistorius could be released from prison and placed under house arrest after serving ten months, or one-sixth of his sentence. It is unclear whether the appeals court will have ruled on his case within ten months.
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Prosecution spokesman Nathi Mncube said he hoped the appeal will be “expedited,” but acknowledged the process can take a long time. “We’re happy,” he added yesterday.
The approval of an appeal represented a victory for South African prosecutors, who had been disappointed that Pistorius was acquitted of murder. The appeals court has panels of three or five judges. It does not meet again until 15 February according to the website of the court, which is based in the South African city of Bloemfontein.
Decisions are based on the opinion of a majority of judges.
“Witnesses do not appear before the court, and the parties need not be present during the hearing of an appeal. A written judgment is usually handed down shortly after the argument,” the website reads.
In arguing for an appeal, the prosecution said Judge Masipa incorrectly interpreted a legal principle. Under that principle, a person should be found guilty of murder if he foresaw the possibility of a person dying because of his actions, and went ahead with those actions anyway.
While approving an appeal against her own verdict on those grounds, Judge Masipa rejected the prosecution’s argument for an appeal against the sentence for culpable homicide because it was too lenient.
If the appeals court finds Pistorius, 27, guilty of murder, the sentence would automatically be raised to match the severity of the crime.
Judge Masipa dismissed the prosecution’s argument that the sentence should be reviewed because Ms Steenkamp’s parents had been extremely dissatisfied with it.
She also said the public interest in the case was “irrelevant” and she had ruled only on the basis of the prosecutors’ case.
Last night the athlete’s father, Henke Pistorius, said the situation “should not have gone this far”.
“Oscar is strong, he has to be strong, he grew up like that. There’s lots of things in life, especially for a man like him that are not fair,” he added.
Pistorius said he thought a dangerous intruder was in the house when he killed Ms Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and budding reality TV star.
Prosecutors alleged he killed his girlfriend after an argument.
Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old because he was born without fibula bones due to a congenital defect.
However, he grew up playing sports with prosthetics. The sight of Pistorius racing at the London Olympics on carbon-fibre blades was one of the enduring and inspirational images of the 2012 games.
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